Dreamer Documents

Research Is A Writer’s Best Friend

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Here’s something you didn’t know about me: I have been involved in several short film projects over the last couple of years, in a variety of capacities. My dear friends over at Red Gryphon Pictures have been steadily upping the ante on their yearly projects, and this year’s is the biggest so far: A half hour of post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure! We are in the final phases of pre-production right now, less than a week till filming begins, and because I am the Production Assistant this means I have been very busy the last couple of weeks. (Part of the reason why I originally wanted to have Romaine finished by now!)

So, I’ve only been sporadically working on my writing, and I have no update news for Romaine. However, I don’t want to go too long without posting something here, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about a part of writing that I find to be super fun: Research!

Research is something that all writer’s should do. Not just fiction and non-fiction writer’s, historical fiction or even Sci-fi writers, ALL WRITERS. Regardless of  genre it’s very important. The simplest reason? Writer’s are human and we don’t know everything… and guessing at facts can be a reeeaaallly bad idea!

This doesn’t mean that every story has to have its own major research project. Research for a story can be can be as simple as just fact-checking the physical properties of an item your character interacts with. For instance, oil skin bags: are they actually the best for keeping water out of valuable things? And are they oily to the touch?  (this is actually something I have to look up for Romaine. ^-^) Nor does research necessarily have to be done before you start writing. I mean, if you’re planning on one of your characters having PTSD then that is something you should definitely research before you start writing. However, things that are not plot important, like the oil skin bag above? Those kinds of things can easily be highlighted, or tagged with a note, and checked on during the editing process.

Personally, I tend to look things up as I go. Partially this is because I genuinely enjoy learning new stuff, even just random facts. Also, you never know what seemingly small facts can become huge to your story or world building. Once, while in the grip terrible writer’s block, I decided that I would look up the properties of shale to see if an item I had constructed out of it in a description would actually work. Turns out it did, and furthermore shale has a ton of different uses! Long story short, I ended up with a whole kingdom with unique customs and history based on shale, and some very good back story development for my characters that helped me trounce my writer’s block . ^-^

This leads me to another really good reason to do your research: it can help make your world/character feel more fleshed-out and real, or your plans feel actually thought out and plausible. As a reader, I think it’s pretty obvious when an author has intimate knowledge on a particular subject. It has a way of grounding the story and pulling you further into it, bringing a character to life, even when that subject isn’t central to the plot. In the case of fantasy stories I think this is particularly awesome, because it helps with the suspension of disbelief that is a key point of the genre.

While generally this kind of intimate knowledge comes from personal experience (which is why they say, “Write what you know!”), well done research can have the same effect. Especially if you know someone who has intimate knowledge of a certain subject who will allow you to pick their brain.  ^-^

One of my favorite examples of an author who did this rather well is Anne McCaffrey. From her more fantasy styled works to her various sci-fi adventures, her experience and love for music (especially singing), horses, and people is pretty obvious. At the same time you get the oddest feeling that somehow she has also trained dolphins, flown a wing of dragons, commanded a fleet of starships, and various other improbable things. It wasn’t until I noticed the paragraph or so of acknowledgements that you can find in the back of most of her books that I realized how much work went into that feeling.

Another thing McCaffrey does well is putting her research to use without doing a ton of info dumping. This is so important! I think over-explaining things is one of the biggest risks with doing a lot of research on something. It’s the same temptation you encounter when you do a lot of back story work with characters, or in-depth world building.

So in conclusion, research is important… and fun! Now get out there and do your homework. ^-^

Do you research when you write? Have a favorite author who is really good at doing their research? Any other thoughts or comments about this post? Tell me in a comment!

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Author: Jennifer L. Post

For most of my life I've been imagining and playing, making up stories and writing them down. It's my dream to become a published author. Right now I'm working hard to make that happen. ^-^

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