Originally posted on 12/20/09 for the Charge of the Write Brigade.
Research. For some it sounds like hard work. Sure, it’s time consuming but it can really be worth it. It’s very important that you do this phase of the writing, just not necessarily at first.
We all get a general idea of what to write about. Concepts pop into our heads and we are inspired with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”. Some of these ideas beg a look into other topics and fields we’re unsure of. Sometimes we’re watching a documentary or show and get inspired to create a story from the small aspect we’ve learned.
There’s nothing wrong with looking deeper into whatever that topic is. In fact at some point you’ll need to do this so your facts are accurate. One problem that might occur from too much research at the beginning is procrastination. You might get so wrapped up in studying the facts that you never actually begin the story. Your warm story concepts and passion for your ideas might cool. You might lose interest or get caught up in something completely different. In those situations, stories die in the opening stages and never become something.
Avoid this! It’s better to have something on the page. Some pages or chapters writing out so you can go back (if distracted) and find that passion again. If you can write the whole thing and only pause for research when you absolutely have too, you’ll have a finished manuscript. Don’t bog down ideas. Don’t stifle the writing by interrupting the flow to follow up on research, but go back after, during the edit phase, and fix. That’s what rewrites are for.
I jumped in with both feet and just started writing the story in my mind. I wrote two whole chapters involving a school house circa mid eighteen hundreds. The problem is, there were no such things in the seventeen hundreds. Yes, I had to cut them out and save those chapters for a later story, but by pushing through I had a chance to place my characters in situations where it helped me to get to know them better. I continued onward and finished the book. I know myself well enough to know I would’ve gotten sidetracked and lost my nerve. It would’ve been another unfinished project.
Sometimes we can’t catch it all. After numerous revisions of the finished manuscript I joined a critique group. I advise everyone to do the same. Others might take you down a peg, but you need it. One such author pointed out that the way I had wolves attacking children was wrong. The pack leader always goes for the fleeing prey’s ankle, that way she or he could pull in down. Sure, I had to rewrite the scene, but something better came from it.
Beta readers don’t expect you to be perfect, but your readers do need the story to be as accurate as possible.
Research is very important. Do not skip it. You find information from reading about your topics both through the web and actual books on the subject. Also, you can find others who know about said topics and interview them (with their permission of course). As you study, interesting gems come forth that may help direct your story. What would your characters do in this new, more accurate situation?
Yes, there will be parts you’ll have to rewrite but don’t be afraid to do that. We’ll discuss rewrites later. All I want to empress on you is that research can be fun and is necessary needs to be controlled. The important thing is to get your story on the page.
Good luck with your writing!