1. Lifeline
    Offline

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,406
    Likes Received:
    1,557
    Location:
    UK - the place betwixt and between

    How do you do research?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lifeline, Oct 13, 2015.

    I wanted to just put the idea out there, see what you make of it:

    Recently I read another interview, where an author talked about doing a whole lot of research before starting to write with the goal that he could make the world more real to his readers. Things like smell/society/dresscode/.. (really, just read an essay on worldbuilding to know what I am talking about) to name a few, would make it more easy to accept.

    Yet I think that there is another kind of research, which for me is more important and it has to do with character-building. If I want to make a character interesting I have to give him a real personality, and that does not mean I want to be limited to my own, personal experiences. So..

    Some people are more easily swept along on paths they would not follow on their own (music, or videos, watching nature, or art can accomplish that for me). Their minds then can explore new experiences, which they did not have before. Imagine 'what it would be'. For example, I sometimes watch war movies, or disturbing ones, or drama, just to get an idea of this particular experience. That does not mean that I would seek out this experience personally, but if I want to write realistically, if I want to draw my reader in, then I have to give his imagination kicks. And there is nothing more exasperating (for me) than reading about a one-dimensional character who does not grow on his story. And that means I have to have some idea of what I am putting him through, that he can draw his own conclusions. Does that sound schizophrenic? :D

    Anyway, hope you can make something of this post :) and I will be interested what you think!
     
  2. California Solo
    Offline

    California Solo New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2015
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    2
    I love character development-related research, honestly. It's just so fun. I'll give you potential writing scenario and then how I would address it to give you an idea of what I would do.

    Imagine you want to write a character who is all alone in a zombie apocalypse and just trying to live their life(last man on earth/TWD/whatever you want to make it). To get started, the middle of the afternoon is the quietest time of day in my neighborhood, so I would probably go for a long walk, in as much isolation as I could get, just imagining that I really was alone. I would also take every opportunity when I was out and about. In, say, a grocery store or mall, imagine what it would be like, cleared out and ruined, with only a few things left on the shelves. Really get into your character's world inside your own head.

    Another example: You're a starship captain. Look out up at the stars at night and imagine that's all you would see if you'd look out the windows. Imagine yourself in a position to be commanding everyone around you(family, friends, etc.) and imagine how that would make your character feel. Make your own world really feel science fiction-y.

    Hope I was able to articulate that in a way that made sense and was relevant. :)
     
    ddavidv likes this.
  3. KhalieLa
    Offline

    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2015
    Messages:
    669
    Likes Received:
    390
    Location:
    United States
    I immerse myself in research! I have books, atlas's, dictionaries, maps, cookbooks, journal articles, you name it! Sometimes I get lecture series on CD from various universities, on differing topics. I just finished a 36 lecture course (HISA 315, The Age of the Vikings) from Tulane University.

    I actually love learning new things, like Iron Age metallurgy or learning words and structures of dead languages. Ancient religions are fun too. I do this as a hobby, so it's not like research FOR writing. Because of the research, the story just sort of happens. As the research occurs I end up wondering what life was like for the people of that time.

    Currently, I am eating an Iron Age diet (limited to what I can cook in my dutch oven or in the fire) based off recipes that were re-created from analysis of residue in cooking pots from archaeological finds of the period. I feel that exercises like this give me greater insight into my characters. The research is not just for setting, but for me really gets to the heart of character development. How could I related to a woman who has no notion of a microwave? What would it be like to do all your washing by hand and hang everything out to dry? (Yup, done that too!) How are the societies structured? What were the trade routes and trade goods? I think research is as much character development as anything because it helps to give you a window into their worlds.
     
    Lifeline and California Solo like this.
  4. California Solo
    Offline

    California Solo New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2015
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    2
    Definitely true. I find that unless I can really immerse myself and really try to know what it would be like to be my character, my characters have a much higher likelihood of being shallow.
     
  5. ddavidv
    Offline

    ddavidv Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2013
    Messages:
    353
    Likes Received:
    240
    Location:
    Pennsylvania, USA
    First of all, I watch people. Fascinating creatures, these humans. :)

    I also watch movies and TV series that have complex and conflicted characters, or characters that are similar to the kind I may be working on. I write strong female leads so enjoy seeking out formats to study what others have done with their similar characters.

    I've been working on a series about a girl who uses various weapons. Being that I own only one gun and nothing else I am hardly an expert on weaponry. I've had to read up on it and watch YouTube videos on exactly how to use guns, crossbows, arrows, etc. Its been pretty fascinating.

    I had occasion to need to know some things about computers and web sites and how they are created and managed. I sought out a friend who is an expert on these things and posed several questions. It is my goal to have enough knowledge on these subjects to write intelligently about them but also not insult those who really do know about these things. Nothing annoys me more than someone writing 'facts' in a book that I know are wrong when relative to my areas of expertise.

    BTW, it was great fun to watch a video and find out my MC can shoot arrows through a car door with a crossbow. Wouldn't have known that without the research. ;)
     
  6. Masterspeler
    Offline

    Masterspeler Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    249
    Likes Received:
    83
    Location:
    U.S.
    I just started a new novel, a political/spy/memoir thriller. I have a spreadsheet with each character with the usual data--name DOB description, job history after high school and before the storyline begins. Before I write the plot I like knowing the players. I was inspired by MMORPG in current type settings, where back story dictates how a character should react.

    Zodiac signs can give a base psychological type. (I don't read horoscopes, but if you do a database of world leaders of well known people certain traits can be found in all that share a date of birth or thereabouts)

    History before the action counts too. Any traumas will affect them. Just the same, military service or jail time or a career can influence their behavior. A prior experience as a helicopter pilot might have a MC more inclined to try to pilot a space ship that landed in his back yard rather than an MC that was a barber.

    Medical history is something that often is overlooked. An MC that suffers from a heart condition might not pilot that space ship. Or maybe he suffered a wound while deployed and has metal pins in his leg that affects the ship's controls and does something crazy. Multiple surgeries would also make a person bitter and more cynical about politics and insurance companies. This is were research really becomes crucial. A diagnosis would affect the character. Did the MC get the treatment or not yet? Is the MC on meds? What are the side effects? What about drug interactions if he decides to share a meal with the aliens that come back to reclaim the ship? Taking aluminum antacids while on Gabapentin for seizures would nullify he drug.

    Just now I was making sure that one of the characters in a new book I started has a timeline down pat. He's a corrupt senator, former soldier, drafted during Vietnam. Most people wont know or care to double check, but his age and birthday had to match with the draft lottery.

    Google is a start, as is Wikipedia, but I use those to point to credible sources. It's a lot easier if you know the topic from personal experience but it never hurts to double check. Earning a medal or a ribbon could be what sets off a disgruntled soldier. Knowing that such awards can come in later, even after a service member is out could be the trigger a plot may need. Like a homeless veteran being found out and asked to attend an award ceremony would be more poignant if the award was a medal and not a ribbon, and that means researching, based on his age, his specialty (MOS, AFSC, etc). I've read so many stories where such a character is tracked down so he can be given his purple heart. What was the injury? if they are looking for him, it would be to give something more than an "enemy sharp shooter medal"

    Also, age discrepancies are easy to miss. Bronze Stars awarded to proud men, standing at attention seems to Star Wars (bam pam pam bam, pam paaaam pam, na, na naaa neah, na...you know the scene). A cynical hero with a missing leg would fit better, but once the Vietnam vet sees another marine, a third his age getting the same medal, in his service dress, with slacks tucked under her thighs and pinned, hidden beneath him in a wheelchair would get to him. Unless he's a sociopath.

    I'm rambling, but this is one of my favorite parts in starting a novel. It's very empowering, god-like. The characters' basic traits, intimate details are at the writers finger tips. Their history, triumphs and tragedies, hopes, dreams and fears, are all in the writers control. (Dance little puppets, dance!) So finding all the details makes them feel truly real. Not to mention that a subplot could develop. One of the older characters deployed with a different unit than one of the younger characters, during her first tour. But they could have met, and considering the mission, they most likely have, so that will definitely enrich the plot and sub arcs. It's the part of story telling that can surprise the story teller, as reality will provide deviations from the plot sketch, making it so entertaining, like an interactive story. I find it so satisfying!

    Noroc,
    AB
     

Share This Page