Thursday, April 17, 2014


I didn't have a topic for this entry until right now --- research. I'll be revisiting this subject more than one, but here is my off-the-cuff, too-early-in-the-morning thoughts on the subject:

With very few exceptions, a writer needs to do research for their story. It could be as something as simple as having a map of New York state to figure out where to put your sleepy little town where your novel is based. Mysteries involve things like researching poisons so your victim dies like you want them to. Spy thrillers involve know about how spies operate and why. High fantasy may involve knowing what different weapons can do, the differences between crossbows and long bows, and what sort of outfit a maiden would wear in a near-Britain of the 12th century. I've read sci-fi version of the Odyssey, American Revolutionary War, and Napoleonic Wars. Sooner or later, you need to do research.

While the story is fictional, most of the supporting background has to have some basis in reality. If Victim A dies from strychnine, they'd better show the same symptoms that a real person would if they had been poisoned with strychnine. In the hero is using a katana, the writer had better know that the Japanese sword is more a cutting weapon than a thrusting weapon. If my bad guys are going to launch a nuclear missile, I need to have an idea of the warhead size and what damage it will do. All details that make the story believable. If the details aren't right, the story loses its effectiveness.

That doesn't mean the writer need to become a courtroom-level expect on the material, as most of it will never appear in the story. But if the writer is comfortable with the material, it shows in the writing, imparting just enough information to let the reader grasp the story. The description of someone being poisoned with strychnine matters, because strychnine is a real poison. The way to manufacture said poison isn't necessary, unless it's a part of the plot, nor how much of it there is in the world. Just enough information to let the reader know what strychnine is. If the story is a historical one, the era the story takes place in needs to be examined for things to avoid, like out of era technology or words.

It's easy to keep a list of things to research as you plot out the story. Keep a list of subjects you need to research and do it as you go. It's going to take some time to look at the information and decide what to use and what to discard. The balance between no information and too much information has to be up to the writer; too little and the reader is lost, but too much and the story boggs down. Private Detective knows what strychnine poisoning looks like and tells Suspect #1 how he knows. He doesn'tneed t tell him anything more than that, unless it's a plot point later on.

Taking African Firestorm as an example, I have to research several countries, their cultures, locations inside those countries for scene settings, several different types of transportation vehicles, weapons, and languages. Since this is a thriller set in the here and now, I can't make up things like language or military firearms. I have to see what I can use, and what I cannot.

The good thing is that it's easy to research --- The Internet has many webpages, filled with useful information. Wikipedia is a useful first step, as is Google or any internet search site. Youtube may have useful videos, or there's a blogger blogging about the subject in question. Searching for pictures of the subject can help visualize the setting. Check local TV channels for documentaries on your subject. And if all else fails, the local library. Check Amazon for books abut your subject, or check out the local bookstore's discount sale table for useful books. I have several dozen books on different subjects, mostly from that discount table.

But do the research. The more believable the details are, the better the story is.

Now, to bed and more writing tomorrow. Got in over a thousand words today, which is good for me. African Firestorm is plotted into Chapter 37, and all three of my Battlecorps stories are rolling along.



No comments:

Post a Comment