1. jlauren
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    jlauren Senior Member

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    What have you done in the name of research?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by jlauren, Nov 26, 2009.

    OK, so I was just thinking about all the research I need to do for what I'm writing at the moment and I wondered, "How far should I go with this?" You see, I could go crazy with research and spends loads of money travelling around, talking to people and trying to experience some of the things I want to write about, but I'm interested to know when enough is enough. It's obvious that a writer doesn't need to personally experience everything they write about.

    So the question is - what have you done in the name of resarch?

    P.s - I don't necessarily need direction on how to conduct my own research, I'm merely interested in what you as writers do, or experiences you've had.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not sure it is 100% necessary to do and experience everything your characters in a novel would.

    If the novel takes place in and around a particular large city, having some familiarity with how, say the subways work or what a taxi ride is like may be important, but going to a more local location might be plenty.

    A personal example: Sure I own and am familiar with firearms. For a short story, a particular one was to be used. I went to a local gunstore, examined one just like it, checking for weight, how it handled, etc. Then I asked the store owner of his particular experience with the rifle and how it compared to similar firearms I'd shot. So, I didn't purchase or actually take it to a range, but got enough information to make the relevant section of the story authentic (which eventually sold).

    Honestly, the chances of a first novel selling, and the author recouping his/her expenses for research are pretty slim. If it's important, consider planning vacations around such research. If a story is going to take place in and around Las Vegas, for example and a local riverboat casino or wherever won't do, then instead of the Florida trip or wherever, plan for Las Vegas.

    Good luck,

    Terry
     
  3. taylor.kuykendall
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    taylor.kuykendall Member

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    Newspaper

    I grew up in West Virginia and spent a year as a reporter in one of it's bigger towns. From that, I gleaned a lot of experience. Now, I have been doing the same thing to gain experience in the Mississippi Delta. It's not for anything in particular, I just dive at opportunities for just about any kind of experience, then it works itself into the writing.

    I've tasted, talked, drank, tried and generally experienced a lot through the newspaper. I would reccommend trying to freelance for newspapers, blogs, magazines or whatever so you also get paid for your adventures. Then, later the experiences can also be used for fictional purposes.

    I have been backstage at concerts, sat with homeless, been encamped in a backwoods anti-coal rally, flew a plane and spoke with the victims of various tragedies. I now am scheduled to travel to the Crossroads where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil, fish for Catfish with my bare hands and hang out with rural hip hop artists.

    I don't believe it's possible to write without understanding people, places and experiences. I would say do whatever you can to understand this world and it will show up in your writing.
     
  4. TimAyro
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    TimAyro Member

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    Wikipedia is how far I go.
     
  5. LadyLazarus
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    LadyLazarus Senior Member

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    I have a tendency to 'try on' my characters odd quirks to see how other people react to them, so the reactions I write to it are authentic. I count that as research. But, I once took a train journey from Bournemouth to Havant, then walked around for a few hours for a short story.
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like LadyLazarus I often put on the "costumes" of my characters and try them out in social situations. It can lead to some very interesting results...especially when it comes to defending the ideology of a villain in a philosophical discussion. Makes you feel like a creep, and the times when you come out on top of the argument, it can be damned frightening.
     
  7. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    I like the costumes idea, although have in the past written lots of horrors so don’t always wear the costume, (I would be a pretty prolific serial killer if I did) but do find that it is useful to try and put myself in certain situations, to help with characterisation, as for research in itself it depends on what it is that you are writing. I wrote a script based in the battle of Trafalgar for instance and as well as many hours of research from the internet, and library I went to the place where the ship I had it set on was built, and trawled around the place (it is still how it was in the 19th century ) to get a feel for it, as well as spending many hours at the historic dockyards at Portsmouth to get a feel for being on a ship, and a sample of what life would have been like, and this wasn’t; a quick process either as from inspiration to finishing the project (although I do revise it form time to time) it took about 4 years. On the other hand I wrote a zombie western for which I did very little research as it wasn’t needed, I just used my knowledge of the period I already had and for the rest of it made it up, its not supposed to be entirely believable after all. I am about to start a new script based around the battle of Britain however so I expect many more months/years of solid research. (my main character is female too so not sure how far I will go in the “costumes” idea, I don’t think a skirt will suit me lol)
     
  8. In Antarctica
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    In Antarctica Banned

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    This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately for my own purposes.

    When Frank Herbert wrote Dune he spent six years doing research before he wrote a sentence of the manuscript. The result is one of the most important works of the science-fiction genre and of modern literature in general.

    Now, that's a wildly complex book and if you've read it, you can probably understand how easily six years of research could be tallied up.

    I think it was David Foster Wallace who said something to the effect that the goal of all serious fiction should be to write something that shows the reader something of what's it's like to be a real person. Your characters are what makes your work work. So regardless of the nature of the situations you place those characters in, you need to convey those situations so that they are right, and the way that the characters behave in them are also right. Dan Brown blows as a writer because his characters and action are set-pieces and his situations (though he claims to spend a lot of time researching for his "books") don't help his characters reveal anything about humanity.

    So the answer is: enough. You need to do enough research that you get it right. And the more right you get it, the more beautiful your particular piece of art/entertainment is going to be.

    Herbert spent six years on his most important work, I think Wallace spent two. Both of them ****ing nailed it.

    Ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to write a catchy story that sells a ****-ton of copies and people are thoroughly entertained by but never think twice about once it's finished, or do you want to grab them by their shaky jowls, look them dead in the eyes and say, "Everything is going to be ****ing beautiful and okay because you're a real person and I'm a real person and there's something so incredibly important in that that I have to share it with you?"

    Each one is going to require different things.
     
  9. jlauren
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    jlauren Senior Member

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    Lol. I totally get that. What's my goal with my writing? The write something that is meaningful and touches the hearts of my readers AND makes me a ridiculous amount of money.

    If only it was that easy.
     
  10. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Mmm yes, I want to touch their wallets. :rolleyes:

    Anyway, on to the topic. I mostly write fantasy, so I don't do a whole lot of research. A few of my stories have medieval/Renaissance Europe as their setting though, and for those I've done a little research into what was "normal" back then. I gleamed enough from Google for my needs, but since none of my stories have ever gone for complete immersion into that time period, I didn't need very much to begin with.

    Call me lazy, but I think the right amount of research to do is the bare minimum to craft your story and meet your readers' expectations. That bar is going to be pretty low for some stories and pretty high for others, but if your story is in the low category, why spend extra time and effort "over-researching" when you could spend that time writing or polishing instead? Most readers probably aren't going to care about what kind of shoes people wore in the medieval era, or how the weight distribution of a rifle changes when you take the scope off (if it even does), etc. I think any story can benefit from little details like that, since they add a sense of credibility and help your readers suspend their disbelief, but I wouldn't break my back trying to amass a truck load of them. I like to think of them as spice for the story: a little can go a long way. :-D
     
  11. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's a common misconception that fantasy shouldn't/couldn't include much research. The result is the endless heaps of Tolkien knock-offs that precious trees have been wasted to print.

    The world of dreams, mythology, theology and general philosophy provides more material for research than almost any other. One you ignore at your own peril of writing another swords & sorcery pulp novel ;)
     
  12. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    You can certainly do that kind of "research", but the kind I was talking about is more specific to time and place. If I'm writing a fantasy story that takes place in France around the time of the Black Death, I need to do a little research into what life was like back then. What was the climate like? What kind of forests did they have? What did they eat? How did they dress? I didn't need all of that information, since most of my story takes place between two characters out in the woods, but it was important for a few scenes. I gathered all the info I needed in the course of a day using nothing more than Google. Was it a lot of research? No. Was it enough for my particular story? Yes. Would it be enough if I were writing a historical fiction piece with characters that lived and breathed that world? Probably not.

    I don't even have to do that much research if I'm writing a story that takes place in a purely fictional world, since I'm the one who's building it from the ground up. That's why fantasy writers don't do as much research as writers of other genres, I think. It's just a natural consequence of the kind of writing we do. And no, we don't all do "swords and sorcery" a la Tolkien. :rolleyes:
     
  13. fantasy girl
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    fantasy girl Contributing Member

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    GOOGLE :) It's my life saver
     
  14. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I don't know that I do a ton of research, in that I tend to prefer to write what I already know. Since what I already know is pretty extensive, not to toot my own horn, I don't have to do much more than use my imagination. I take a page from Stephen King and tend to set my novels in areas where I live, even if I change the names anyone who lives here would know I'm talking about our town/state/ area.

    I guess I'm always conducting research. When I talk to people I am sizing up their character, their personality, their manner of speech and thought processes reflected by such. I find myself always thinking "What if..." in just about every situation I am in. And my over active imagination does the rest for me.

    I do occasionally do a little research I guess. I had my kids and some neighborhood kids, chasing me around the neighborhood acting like fast moving zombies, that was fun and educational as far as the feelings of dread and panic, and also exhaustion from running...I found I really need to do more cardio before the zombie apocalypse happens.

    My parents just opened a video game retail store, and I just experienced staying awake and working non-stop for 42 hours straight...Now there is a research experience for my type of writing. I couldn't imagine trying to survive and getting no sleep for that long. By the end of the 42 hours I was drunk with sleepiness, dizzy, and next to comatose. It was horrible and I hope I never have to do that again, but I know how it would be if my characters had to do that now.

    I guess if I were going to write about something set somewhere else that I don't know well enough, I might go there, but then there is always google earth to tell me the information I might need, but I wouldn't get a feel for the people there, thus going to that place might be helpful. But I don't see myself writing much beyond what I already know as far as locations and types of people. However, travel is a tax write off in our profession... :)

    I do the amount of research I need to feel comfortable and confident in what I am talking about. This is why I know a little bit about most subjects. And the things I don't know yet, I read about to learn something new. I guess everything I do every day is a research experience in some way.
     
  15. Sylous
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    Sylous Member

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    Well, I have been researching a five book series for the past 9 years (Just finished the outline - whew) and because of the nature of the main story I had to become an amateur theoretical physicist, astrobiologist, anthropologist, and a florist :) (yes florist)

    I believe it all has to do with what you are writing and how involved the topic you are researching will be to the overall story. Because the main story arch of this series will be heavily focused on the themes I listed above I felt I had to be 100% accurate on various plot points or the series would collapse in on itself (See the whole Empire Strikes Back/Yoda puppet situation for clarity on my though process).

    All that being said, I have almost completed a series where I did not feel it necessary to research certain topics to the extent of what I did for the above.

    As a rule of thumb for myself - anything that is historic in nature, based in science, religion, or common knowledge events must be researched carefully.
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Jumped into a lake at two in the morning and then wrote a short story about it.

    That was a wild weekend.
     
  17. deltaquid
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    deltaquid Member

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    I figured hollywood wasn't a good tutor regarding military strategies. Apparently, real world generals don't have their men shooting from the hip, or walking straight into the open. Who would have known?

    But seriously, I googled around a bit for general squad movement, that sort of things.
     
  18. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    I use Google.
    I have done almost nothing as far as adding new research into the world. I have not traveled to Spain when my characters need to go. I simply research where others have been. Spending money on traveling for a novel seems a little extreame for me. Of course, I've never gotten anything published yet, either, so that may change with time.
     
  19. Ender
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    Ender New Member

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    I took my car out for a week, With nothing but the clothes on my back and a full tank of gas, then shoplifted food and Syphoned gas. Along the way i did meet a group of kids in a walmart parkinglot who gave me a burger, But i credit that to having similar taste in cars. It was a fun week but i couldnt imagine doing it longer.
     
  20. m5roberts
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    m5roberts Member

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    "That's why fantasy writers don't do as much research as writers of other genres"

    I tend to think that fantasy is better when it reflects the real world; therefore, research could be very beneficial to writers of fantasy. Many people think that fantasy is just escapism but I prefer to see it as an extended metaphor. My favorite is mixing history in with fantasy. By the time they're finished, you might have been able to encourage your readers to view the "real world" a little differently.
     
  21. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    For me, I think you must learn about psychology before you write about characters who you want to make appear real. Even if you just get to a basic, merely applicable level, knowledge of psychology is a must. Mostly Freudian, and his psychoanalysis is a great subject to learn anyway, but it has really helped me with my writing. I've also read Jungian psychology, and that - for the sort of stuff I write - is also a great help.

    You really have to treat them like people, as that is what they are.
     
  22. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    In my opinion, fantasy requires a far broader range than most other genres. If you're writing about politics, then you certainly need some knowledge of the different types of government so as to determine the workings of daily life for the rich and poor alike. Obviously daily life in a totalitarian regime is going to be very different to in an anarchistic society. Of course, that also requires a certain range of knowledge regarding history. For example, if you write any kind of renaissance/romance-era adventure, you should read Casanova as research to get an idea of courtly and peasant life. Machiavelli's The Prince is great for any fantastic political systems, and Plato's The Republic is recommended too.

    Likewise, unless you're basing your swordplay off the highly stereotyped examples seen in Hollywood, etc. you'll probably want to read about fencing and traitional fighting arts techniques; while Europe's martial arts were far less spiritualised than Eastern martial arts, for example, they were often just as complex.

    There is just as much, if not more research to be done for a fantasy novel than a factual.
     
  23. love2listen
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    I write a blog about history in my city. I go to the state archives and have them pull out items for me(I live in the state capitol city) and I go to the places I blog about and photograph them.

    the book I am currently writing is memoir and I was writing about the clubbing area in my city, but I got a bit confused so I consulted google maps for exact street locations and names of streets
     
  24. Angel-Eyes
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    Angel-Eyes New Member

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    I like to do a lot of research when I am writing a story. When I wrote a fantasy story where nature was very important I spend a lot time researching in the library, the zoo and in the forrest. I thought how the forrest made me feel was probably the most important research because I think the feeling of a story is more important than the facts.
     
  25. Cosmos
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    Cosmos Contributing Member

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    I do some research but not a lot. I'm a habitual abuser of poor ol' Wikipedia since I find it not only a decent source of information, but also leads to other links which provide even more depth detail. I frequently use it for details on personality types, history, mythology, religion and politics. The world is vast and complex and it often gives me even more ideas along with supplementing my limited information.
     

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