Friday, June 3, 2011

Research, The Joy and The Pain Part Two

How To Research

Getting started can be quite overwhelming and may send an author screaming into the vast abyss of reference books, encyclopedias, and the swirling tides of the world wide web. Don’t despair. Using whatever method is comfortable, pen and paper or electronic, start a plot line for the work in question. Get the main points down in chronological order and starting at the beginning, jot down the aspects of the story you are unsure of. For example, the heroine is kidnapped and taken aboard a pirate ship. Sounds easy, yes? Now start asking questions…What type of ship does a pirate sail? This may differ depending on where the pirate sails the salty seas, (the Caribbean, Pacific Ocean, South Pacific, Atlantic Ocean) and in what time period. Once you determine the correct ship, the author now needs to ascertain the layout of the vessel. How many masts, what type of sails are used in different weather conditions (what sailing story is complete without a huge storm?), where is the bathroom, and why is it called “the head”? How many men does it take to crew the ship, what are the duties of each level in the hierarchy of the crew? What would one expect to eat? Sleeping arrangements, and clothing? (no zippers or Velcro)
As you can see, the importance the object of your research has in the plot will determine how much you need to know to make the situation real and believable. Pay attention to little details, what types of knots are used in what situation, the salt from the sea water crusts on the skin and itches when it dries. Types of marine life in the area. The attention to small details will make your reader’s experience richer and more enjoyable.
Continue down the plot list and research each point thoroughly. Keep notes of the sources of information; websites, reference books etc. I find it is easiest to catalogue the research references by subject at this point. We will discuss this further when I talk about the importance of being organized. (5 PM post)
Don’t rush the research process and cut corners. This practice will inevitably come back to bite you in the butt, guaranteed. An important thing to note, you cannot change actual events to suit the story line. The author can add a fictitious character and let them interact with characters and events, but not to change history. General George Custer did not survive the Battle of The Little Big Horn, however, a fictitious soldier could have. An author cannot change who shot JFK. This is very important in books aimed at school age readers who will take what they read as fact. The author of the Middle Grade or Young Adult genres may be hoping to get their books into a school curriculum. If this is the case, then the thoroughness of the research must be impeccable. Reviewer and teachers will not be impressed if your facts are blatantly incorrect. Keeping this in mind, my next post speaks to the conundrum: How much is too much? Part Three will post at 1:00 PM


Unknown said...

Very well said, and exactly how much is to much? I look forward to the next post! I also find that sometimes research sends the story in a whole new direction.

jabberingjo said...

MY folder of printed out research is full. Sometimes I find I didn't need it, but it's there in case I need it for future novels.Nancy, I'm glad you pointed out the importance of knnowing your reader's status when it comes to research. A mature reader might be interested in a lengthy account of the mineral rights in Wyoming, but YA might not be so interested. Thank you for pointing that out. I had not really thought about that before.

Lisa Forget said...

Excellent points. I really appreciate your mentioning the importance of keeping facts accurate when writing for YA and middle school audiences.
Thank you very much Nancy!

Unknown said...

Nancy...this is so detailed and well written...not that I'm surprised, mind you but even I can understand the research you're talking about and importance. Just the other day one of my groups was talking about an error someone made and mentioned libido in her novel. According to their comments, libido wasn't mentioned until the 1800's and the book in question was written in the 1500's. Just goes to show how people do pay attention to these things. I'll be interested in your take for "not taking research too far". Great post and wonderful, thought provoking material.

Nancy Bell said...

Hi, thanks for coming! Karen, good point, when writing historical novels there is so much nitty gritty research for that exact reason. Some terms and words did not come into existence until certain eras, any historical affciendo will know if you mess up and they WILL remember and they WILL tell thier friends and book clubs.
I learned the hard way Joan, about loading young readers down with fact. My son would tell me, "why can you just say ...." short and sweet. LOL
CPG, yes sometimes research can take a story in a new direction, in my case it often sparks a new story related to the original.


Anita Davison said...

For me, research is the best part. I love delving into the minutiae of the time; what people in my chosen era ate, how they structured their day, what rituals they had connected to things like weddings, childbirth and travel. Then I sift through all the information and pick out the gems that say I know and can re-create my era without giving the impression I'm writing a history text book.

Anonymous said...

All excellent points. Thank you. I look forward to reading part III.

Nancy Bell said...

Great point Anita, it is knowing how much of the info to use and when to use it.

Thanks for dropping in.

Hey Suzanne, thanks for coming by and leaving a comment