Research: when it calls, you should follow

Nineteen weeks after the second day of the new year

Now that Oracle’s Hunt has been published, Author is more eager than ever to finish the next book in the Oracle series, and there’s still a whole lot of work to be done.

Going through that mess she has made of her draft and dealing with all the markings and comments strewn throughout it, Author finds herself doing some complementing research. When she mentioned to Sister that this is something she’s doing quite a bit of in this round of work on the draft, Sister suggested that if there’s anything Author wants to know she can ask the people they’re in contact with online. Author declined the offer, saying she would rather not ask anyone questions just yet. She prefers to begin by looking for answers herself, even if she has no knowledge at all about the subject she is looking into, and even if she is not sure where to start. If, after she does some research, she still has unanswered questions, such as if information she needs can only come from practical experience, she would put the questions she has to those who reliably know the answers. But she would begin by doing the initial research herself.

It is this exchange between Author and Sister that has led to this post. Author thought she should share  with you the reasoning for why she does things this way, as she has shared other parts of her writing process with you. You see, Author considers research extremely valuable. Doing the research herself, whether digging through online resources or reading books, has major benefits in her opinion. One is that the ability to conduct research is a useful skill for a writer to have, and as such it should be developed and honed. Research enough times, enough resource types, and enough subjects, and you learn to identify the path to the knowledge you seek faster and more efficiently. Research is like a tree with countless branches, each growing in its own direction. Some branches end in new ones while others lead to thin air. Some are strong enough to bear the weight of the knowledge you seek while others are too weak to provide backing and should be avoided. Walk the tree enough and you learn to navigate the maze of branches skillfully and confidently, easily recognizing which way will be fruitful and which way will be a dead end.

And then there’s another benefit, and it is a huge one: you never know what you’ll find. On the way to the answer you seek to your question, you learn more than you could have anticipated. You find answers to questions you haven’t even asked and gain knowledge that has nothing to do with your original research question, getting new ideas on the way. And who knows, sometime in the future you might need this knowledge for another story, another plot. You might encounter a question that you’ll recall you’ve seen the answer to somewhere, and when you research it, you just might get to the information you need faster because you’ve searched for it before, even if you don’t remember exactly when and where you found it.

More than that, if you write something into your story—be it tangible such as a specific location or intangible such as a sequence of events that involves multiple time zones—while researching your use of it to provide completing details you just might discover that you can’t anchor that use in reality. Perhaps your perception of it is wrong and it doesn’t do what you thought it did, or maybe it doesn’t fit in your plot after all or takes it in a different direction than you intended. Your research just might end in you rewriting a part of your story. Of course, that depends on how reliable you want your story to be, how close to reality. Author likes what she uses in her books, anything from tangibles to notions, to be at least possible, to be anchored in reality. In fact, The First was the only book in which she allowed herself to forego this principle, and insert some notions that are more imaginative than reliably real. And even there, possibilities offered by reality were intermixed in the story, and tangible research questions were involved. In her other books, what she writes might not yet be but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. And so research is important to her work, and she treats it with due respect.

Author and Sister’s tip for you this week: research is a valuable tool. Learn to use it.


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