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writing process: research

April 19, 2010

Since I’m at an interesting point in my writing process right now, I thought I would blog about the steps in my writing process. I’m going to break it up into several posts. Let me start at the beginning.

1. Research

Once I have the core idea for the story, I do extensive research. For me, that means reading books (nonfiction, mostly), searching the Internet, and watching documentaries. By the way, I try to do all of my research in English, not German. Knowing the German terms won’t do me any good when I’m writing in English.

With e-books, I can get my hands on the books I need more easily.

I always learn more than I’ll ever need for the story. Less than ten percent of what I learned about horses actually made it into Hidden Truths — and that’s as it should be. Resist the temptation to dump all that hard-earned knowledge onto the page and onto the reader. Even if you don’t use every bit of information in your story, it’s not a waste of time. The information is in my head, and I believe that readers can sense it.

A lot of writers I know dislike research (in fact, Georgia Beers just blogged about it). I don’t. I’m an information hound. I love learning new things. During research, I learned about big cats, the hormone system, life on the Oregon Trail, ranching, horses, mail-order brides, law enforcement, the US court system, and a lot of other things.

For my next novel, I’ll research canines, wolves, deafness, and American Sign Language. A dozen “research books” are already waiting on my bookshelf, and probably even more on my e-reader.

At some point, I have to force myself to stop the research and start writing.

So, how do the writers among you do research? Do you like it? Hate it?

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9 comments

  1. Research, for me, is an organic process. Largely, by the time an idea has gelled into a plot with characters that I want to write, much of the ancillary research necessary has been percolating in my mind for years, if not decades. As I begin writing, a “gap” might occur in my knowledge — I don’t know if that area would have easy, quick access to someplace else, or a person can do X without doing Y first. I’ll often write past the moment with a note to look it up if I’m “in the zone.”

    I have had research create new avenues getting me out of writer’s block, or new potential complications to enrich a plot.


    • Truly interesting, Lara. I love hearing about how other writers experience the creative process. You mentioned that research is an organic process for you, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you might have to say about the way you plot. That’ll be my next post.


  2. Interesting discussion 🙂 I always learn a lot more in my research than ever makes it into a novel. Once I have the basic idea for my story I start the research of the big element of the story that I am not knowledgable about. For instance with LA Metropolitan I researched police officers and procedures. The medical knowledge I already had a handle on except the Psychiatry so I added that to my research list. During the writing if I run into something I didn’t anticipate I stop and research it out. Then continue on.
    As you said, only a fraction of what I research ends up on the page. In All Gone, I had my dog’s vet help me with the medical and technical aspects even though I only ended up using a small part of the imformation.


    • Opps… that was In A Heartbeat with the police officer. LA Metropolitan is all in a hospital setting.


    • That’s the best kind of research: asking an expert. For Hidden Truths, I’m lucky to have a test reader who owns a horse farm plus someone who knows a lot about weapons 🙂


      • Make sure not to upset that reader!!!


  3. As a non-writer, I had no idea how much research goes into a book, so this discussion is very fascinating to me.

    If the internet was non-existent (yes, I actually remember those days :-)), would it make your research more challenging or time-consuming?


  4. Since I do research over years, actually most of my research is not done through the internet. I read the newspaper, read non-fiction books, talk with people in those jobs or situations. I was a journalist. There’s literally stories everywhere. I absorb them, and then, as I said, organically grow my own.


  5. For me, yes, the Internet makes research so much easier. Years ago, it was incredibly difficult to get my hands on some of the more specialized nonfiction in English. Most libraries and bookstores here in Germany don’t have any of the books that I would need.

    And the Internet is wonderful for fact checking. When is sunrise in Boston in February? What day of the week was March 27, 1868? How much would a horse cost in 1868? … All that information is just a few mouse clicks away.

    That said, I don’t rely on the Internet for the important things. Books are more reliable.



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