Getting your hands dirty in the name of art

5 01 2011

There are many different phases or steps involved in writing a novel. First you have to get an idea, then you have to nurture and water the idea and help it grow into a full blown story. For me, one of the most enjoyable parts is the research. I love getting my hands dirty and digging into a subject and becoming as close to an expert as one can by simply doing hours or days of research.

Recently, I have had to do research on the geography and weather in Iran, as well as the ferry to Liberty Island. For other parts of my novel, I have done research on India, the layout of early 18th century Spanish galleons, the Treasure Coast of Florida, and devices to create a large-scale EMP. And I’m sure I’ll end up researching other things before I finish this book.

For many writers, I’ve heard them say they hate doing research. All they want to do is write. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no rule even that you have to do any research before writing. For some types of books, especially if you are writing a book based on something you already know a lot about, research isn’t really necessary.

Personally, I’ve always been an information junkie. I want to know everything about everything. Just like Sid the Science Kid. And unless you have young kids in your house who watch PBS, you probably have no idea who that is. But that’s OK. I absorb as much information as I can every day. News, current events, research for my books, whatever. Unfortunately, the older I get, the less I actually “absorb.” Somedays it seems I can’t remember where I left my head, let alone anything I read that day. That’s why I bookmark lots of Web sites and make lots of notes.

I probably obsess over the details more than I need to. But i don’t want anyone to read my book and go, “Oh that’s not right. That’s not how you do that,” or “That’s not what that looks like.” I guess it’s a control thing. I can control getting as much information as possible and accurately putting it into my book as a way to deflect possible criticisms. It makes me feel better and more secure when I have all the facts.  And I’m sure all my years in newspaper journalism also plays into my attention to getting all the facts correct.

One chapter in my book is a flashback to the Spanish fleet that set sail from Cuba and crashed along the Florida Coast in 1715 with a vast treasure on board, most of which remains undiscovered. It took a lot of time and searching online but eventually I was able to uncover details I was searching for, such as names of the captains of the ships and officials in Cuba at the time. Unfortunately, some of the details I uncovered were conflicting, which forced me to make decisions about which ones I chose to include and which ones to leave out. In the end, I think I was able to paint an accurate picture of the people and places involved, with some artistic license taken. It was almost 300 years ago, after all. Not too many witnesses left to argue with me.

The one problem with enjoying research is sometimes I have to rein it in. Too much time spent in research takes away from time that could be spent writing or other things. Other times, my research branches off and I find new ideas for my current Work In Progress or maybe even a lead on a new story idea. So it’s a careful balance.

Time to go do a little more digging.  The ferry to Liberty Island is calling to me.

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2 responses

5 01 2011
Tiffany T. Cole

Hey! A couple of days ago, I saw on Facebook that you’d updated your blog. I meant to comment on it the day I found out, but it totally slipped my mind. There’s too many thoughts going on up there in my head. lol. Anyway, I completely connect with this post. I’m not exactly sure, but I think you and I once talked about the fun involved in research. My story is more research into magic, creatures, mythology, and the ‘dark arts,’ though I will have to do historical research, considering many of the creatures in my story have been alive for centuries and they talk about their pasts at least once.

I love researching almost as much as I love writing, though on bad writing days I love research a lot more. lol.

6 01 2011
Erin Al-Mehairi

I’m with you honey! I think research is one of the best parts, as long as I’m researching something I’m interested in, which if I’m writing a book, I guess I’d be interested in the subject matter, right? I think for me it is my love of history and delving into it. All those years of doing genealogy as well as a bachelors in history, I think even getting into my children’s book I see all this history and it makes me excited to actually pull those different loves and skills sets together. I think you and i should own a museum. there’s another idea for you, as if I don’t already have a million!

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