Before the 1st draft… before the outline… The fun and drudgery of #research

Writing is a multi-leveled art… or it should be. I will be the first one to admit that in the past I have written a lot of books without much research, some of which because I already knew the subject. However, that doesn’t excuse me. Even knowing the subject, there are other parts that should have been researched.

Over the last couple years, I’ve done a boatload of research for a couple of series I’m working on. It’s an intriguing side to writing and one that I’m paying more attention to as I move forward.

Why is Research important?

Let’s get down to the main reasons:

  • If you get something really wrong, you’re going to look like an idiot
  • Your book could get the worst ratings ever (guns are a major upsetter of ratings; bad kink should be, but unfortunately readers don’t know the difference for the most part)
  • Research can add a tremendous amount of depth to your writing and characters.
  • Good research will make you a better writer

Want an example? Have you read Stephanie Meyer’s book The Chemist? Her lead character creates all sorts of odd ways to defend herself (which don’t work) and then goes on and on in the narrative how she (the character) reads fiction thrillers because she thinks that’s the best place to pick up actual plans that work. *bangs head on desk* Many Meyer fans loved it because it’s Twilight-esque. But Meyer needed to do some REAL research instead of picking up some romance thrillers. I appreciated that she attempted to break into a different genre, but it wasn’t well executed.

So why don’t all authors research?

Most don’t understand why it’s important. Some are just starting out. And then there are (what I hope are the minority) those who just think research is stupid and refuse to do it because unfortunately their tripe sells without it.

Whether your tale is plot driven or character driven, research is going to help. Research will flush out things you never expected, give incredible depth to your story. If your character is special ops, talk to someone in special ops. Read a bio by someone in special ops. READ and read more. Find out how their mind works. If your plot is about the end of the world, pick out a few ideas you’ll use as the detonation device: bombs, chemicals, DNA code changes, alien overlords… and research each and every one. If it is a genre you aren’t well versed in? Read a few dozen bestsellers to get the beats of the novel down before you decide if you really want to write it.

(If it’s a science topic, study! I might not enjoy science, but if I read a book where the basis is science and it’s badly done? I’ll note it and will never rec it. It won’t BE readable.) Get prereaders who know the subject and have them preread. Take their ideas and decide where to go from there. I know that drastically changed how one of my series went. I had it go one way in the first book and after hearing back from the group that was my intended audience for the thing, completely rewrote the last 10%, thus changing the outlook of the entire series. (And it’s so much better.)

I know. Why am I going on and on? First off, because I wince at some of the shit I wrote years ago that suffers from non-research issues. But also because research, while one of the best things we authors can do, can also be the biggest drudgery on earth. Especially if you’re going to need to study something you know NOTHING about on very technical subjects. Currently I’m getting info on psychology, specific to how the mind can go from one side of the coin to the other and what the steps are so my character goes through each one. At the end of the book I want every reader to be shuddering at how realistic it was when he was a completely different person than he was at the beginning, not going “WTF? That made no sense.”

Research is a part of the writing process. Unfortunately its a part too many overlook.

If you want to write BDSM? Find a local BDSM group, go to a munch, tell them what you’re doing. Ask questions. Go to a kink night. SEE what it’s all about instead of using the basics of a scene you read once in a fiction book. Regurgitated kink makes bad romance.

If you want to write a thriller: Research! Find people in the industries or alphabet agencies to talk to. If you can’t find any, find non-fiction books written by people who have lived those lives. Talk to military personnel. DON’T rely on the internet.

As much as I appreciate indie authors being able to get their work out there, there has been a tremendous downswing in literature quality. Let’s get it back up. Our books deserve good reviews and accolades. Our books deserve to be reread. So let’s do what it takes to get that done.

Now… hits publish and goes back to research.

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