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Thursday, April 16, 2015

How I Research a Story

Every book requires research of some kind or another and that includes paranormal. I'm going to talk a little bit about how I like to do research for my stories.

I'll start by saying that I've always had this eclectic interest in all kinds of things. As a teenager, I would get interested in a topic and check out every book the library had on it. I'd read them all and then go back to reading fiction until the next interest arose. A few topics I distinctly remember reading about as a kid: Mars, sharks, and the pyramids among other things.

My weirdness continued in college where there was a smorgasbord of classes to take and graduation required a distribution across a number of different areas. Plus, I was in journalism school (as an advertising copy major) and we only could take 45 credits inside the school. The rest were in other areas like political science, economics, etc. With this encouragement and my own innate curiosity, I graduated with 60 more credits than I needed and I did not have a second major or a minor. Um, yeah. Good thing I'm not going to college today.

After college, I continued my teenage habit of reading a ton on any topic that interested me, so I have this jack of all trades, master of none thing going pretty strongly. :-)

This all comes into play because before I'd even put down one word of Ravyn's Flight, I'd already done a lot of reading about Special Forces. Years before I wrote a word of The Power of Two, I'd read like a bazillion articles on nanotechnology because it interested me. The same with just about any paranormal phenomena you can mention.

In fact, I credit my idea for Power of Two to all the reading I did on nanotech. This is how the idea happened: I read the series bible and saw the four stories there were to choose from. I had no clue which one I wanted or what to write about, but my mind was turning things over. I was in the bathroom at work, looking out the window as I tried my hands and I heard this word in my head. Nanotechnology. I'm like, okay what about it? Nanoprobe in the brain. Hmm. The rest came tumbling in about how the hero has a nanoprobe in his brain too and so on.

My heroine came in as I was walking back to my desk and gave me her name, but it was the reading I'd done probably eight years earlier that set the stage for this book.

Sometimes, though, I have ideas that bring up topics I've never read about. Like in Edge of Dawn. I knew nothing about restoring classic cars. Not only that, I had no interest in them. Unfortunately, my hero, Logan, was into it big time. When this happens, I do some research in the phase I call Pre-Book. I want to get the heavy lifting done before I'm putting down words.

As I write, I'll look up the finer details that I inevitably need to know.

My research strategy:

1. Read and learn. If not every day than at least every week (just for fun)

And then the idea comes in

2. Research at a high level before sitting down to write without getting bogged down in minutia.
3. As I write, research the small details that the story needs

Not getting bogged down in minutia is a big one. I never know what kind of small details I'm going to need to know until I'm writing. This leaves only two choices for Pre-Book--either research down to a fine level on every subtopic within the topic or guess which subtopics you'll need and only research those.

The first wastes incredible time and is why there are some writers who've spent years studying without getting anything written. The second one is a waste of time, too, because inevitably the things I thought I'd need to know aren't what the book needed me to know and I ended up stopping to research anyway.

That said I subscribe to the iceberg theory of writing. Only 10% is visible in the book and the other 90% stays hidden beneath the surface. Just because I know something doesn't mean it has to go in the book. Same for what I know about my characters. But again, that's another post.