Tuesday, August 31, 2010


So yes, it's been awhile. I've had a couple of people bugging me about putting up a new blog post. Only a couple, though. And oddly enough, only one of them follows this blog. The other is a lurking stalker who now resides in Oregon. Yes, Jennifer, I'm talking about you. Hope you and hubby are doing well out there, we miss you back here in good ol' Manhattan.

Anyway, back on topic.

For whatever reason, research is something that I love to do. Many writers talk about the way they research and how it relates to their writing. Dan Brown doesn't, but that's because he doesn't do research. That's neither here nor there, though. Research can be a vital part of the writing process. It's fairly obvious if you're writing historical fiction or something that requires a bit of information about certain periods in time. Other types of fiction may not require as much, but there always seems to be a bit of research involved in most types of writing.

So, why is research so important? The most obvious reason is because you want to be as accurate as you can within your story about the different elements that you use to construct it. It could be as simple as wanting to know if a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air had a certain color of paint off the assembly line or it may be as complex as understanding the layout of a town during the Civil War era.

Another reason that research is important is that it may lead to new plot twists or perhaps a completely different outcome to your story. This second reason is something that I want to take a closer look at in this post.

My process for writing involves the following:

First, I get the general idea for a story. I spend a lot of time thinking about it in my head and try to decide whether or not it's worth telling. If it seems like it might be a viable idea, I sit down, type out a brief synopsis of what I'm thinking and let it sit. Eventually, I'll get back to it.

My next step is to actually create an outline. Many writers won't do this and I think that the way that you should write is whatever is most comfortable for you. For me, I need to make an outline to start with so that I can see the overall flow of the story. It helps me see the beginning, middle and end. One thing to understand, though: The outline is NOT set in stone.

After I've created my outline, I dig in and write the first chapter. If it seems like this thing's going to flow pretty well, I stick with it. I refer back to my outline every now and then to make sure I'm keeping things going, but for the most part, I try to let my characters take on a life of their own and if it leads away from that original outline, then so be it.

Here's where the research comes in. Many times, I'll run into something in my story (a plot twist, a character development or historical issue) that I have to figure out. What I generally do is either mark it with a quick edit (need to research this or something like that) and keep on writing. If the writing is flowing, you don't want to stop to do research. However, when I get to a good stopping point, I'll go back to where I placed my edit and remind myself what it was I needed to take a closer look at.

I do my research in two different ways. The first way is to hit Google. As time has gone on, though, accurate research on the Internet has become harder to do in my opinion. There are many places out on the 'net that have wholly inaccurate information. For the most part, I spend my time on Wikipedia. I know that most librarians and teachers cringe at this, but I've found that the information on Wikipedia is, for the most part, quite accurate. I also have access to some research databases that are available to university faculty. This is one perk of working at a university.

The second way I do my research is to hit the library. Our library here at K-State is really quite nice and is chock full of great information about lots and lots of stuff. It's especially great for researching historical issues and presenting different sides of those issues. I realize that not everyone has access to a university library, but you probably have access to a public library. I've found that the public library is a great place to go, check out a load of books and skim through them for relevant points that are applicable to my research problem.

For the most part, these methods of doing research have worked quite well for me. However, what I love the most about research is when I read something relevant to what I'm writing and it completely twists the plot or changes the story. It's like an aha! moment. In most cases, it also makes the story better.

This brings me to the final portion of this blog post. I was talking with a friend recently and the subject of writing came up. He referred me to his blog (http://craftsstories.blogspot.com/2010/08/my-writing-history.html) and I took a moment to read it.

In one part, he talks about the idea of role play and how it has affected his writing. He would jot down character notes or new story lines based on the role play. As I thought about this, I realized that role play could be a really interesting form of research. Obviously, it's not necessarily historical research; it's more like research into the characters that you're writing about.

In my opinion, character development is probably the most important aspect of writing a story. I think role playing your characters, whether it's in your head or actually acting things out, could lend more depth to the characters and it could create new character traits or flaws that you hadn't initially thought about.

My only gripe is that I didn't think of this myself! Special thanks to Phil for nudging me on this.

That's all for now.