Sunday, 26 February 2012

I ♥ Research


The school of thought which suggests you write about what you know is a school for fools. Yes, poor, joy-starved, innocent fools.

And I will tell you why. It is because writing about what you don’t know forces you to research, and research is quite frankly awesome.
The genes reunited party
was a sober affair

I’m not talking about general research - the sort of research you get from just living; the details of your everyday life. Say, for example the way your headlights shatter when you hurtle into the back of a stationery vehicle, the sick feeling in your guts from overdosing on chocolate ice cream, the joy of family reunions …  You know these things already; you pay attention to them because you are a writer, and you store them up for future use. This is what people mean when they say write about what you know.


I am talking about specific research; the sort of research you need to do to find out about something outside of your day to day life experience. You may already have a sketchy knowledge of your subject or you may be without a clue about where to start or what you’ll find, but either way you will have to unearth information from somewhere; books, real people (yes, scary I know), activity or by trawling the internet. There are no limits to what you can research apart from those self imposed limits of imagination and daring. 

And I love that.

I love it because every time I discover something new, I see the world through fresh eyes. Whether I am pre-first draft or half-way through the umpteenth draft, (because yes, research is ongoing) I have a new opportunity to be ingenious and inventive and to make my story fit in with the real world. It’s a challenge to my creativity, which is, after all, why I write in the first place. But there is also the joy of synchronicity - that moment when something you have newly discovered falls into place and fits so easily into your story, it’s almost as if it were meant to be.

Whilst researching my current work in progress, so far I have learned card tricks and illusions, the twelve signs and attributes of the Chinese zodiac, what shape footprints you get from a fox, how to bake tiger bread, how to avoid red-eye when taking flash photographs, how to adopt a baby and that cats do indeed play the piano.




And all of these things have not only enriched my life, they help me to develop, deepen and improve my writing. Plus, they help to immerse me in the world of my story and focus my mind.

If I only wrote about what I knew, I would soon get bored. 
All these amazing things out there would be missed. 
My life would be smaller.

So there we have it. Go forth and write about what you don’t know, safe in the knowledge that research is fun, and a challenge to your ingenuity, creativity and imagination.

Now, what have you researched lately? 

10 comments:

  1. I completely agree with you, Wendy. Research is so much fun. Too often as adults, we shelve learning, thinking we have assimilated all the knowledge we need to make a living and get by. But there is everything still to learn. I love trawling the internet in particular for sometimes ghoulish, sometimes beautiful but always fascinating facts. Research in real life is logistically harder, depending on the subject but that will hopefully be easier for a more established writer. A great post!

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    1. Thanks, Marnie. Looking forward to being established enough to get immersed in some real life research. May have to write some exciting books in which hero/heroine must balloon over the Grand Canyon, scuba dive on the Barrier Reef or Flamenco till dawn in some sleazy Spanish bar...

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  2. I find research totally absorbing. Whilst writing a short story set in the trenches in WW1, I spent about twice as much time on research as I did on the story. Then I discarded about ninety per cent of my research notes and used the rest as scaffolding for my story. It's those small details that are important and lend authenticity to works of fiction.

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    1. Sometimes there is a temptation to add too much research, almost like you want to show off all this amazing knowledge you've acquired, but you are right, it's the small details which are important, otherwise you might as well be writing an instruction manual.

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  3. I've always felt that writing what you don't know is a better mantra, too. Great post.

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  4. Ooh, great post! How I love research - and all those books you need to buy! It sounds as though you've researched some fab things. I've been going with highwaymen and alchemy.

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    1. My friend's Uncle called himself a highwayman. Turns out he was a road sweeper. I imagine yours will be a little more daring and dashing.

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  5. Wonderful, wonderful post. I love research. I am with you all the way. I went to Normandy to research my most recent book, I have slept on the streets in the past too. I like to know what it feels like. I also use it as an excuse to have a go on the swings at the local park....all in the name of research of course. Writing about what you know would be so boring.

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    1. Can't believe I didn't reply to you before, Ness. Thanks for feedback - am so impressed you went as far as sleeping rough - that's real dedication.

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