Saturday, February 05, 2005

My thoughts on....

A Writer's Woes: To Write or To Research

This post from a fellow writer hits on some very key points for me.

Research instead of writing - yep, I've been pulled into this one! As someone who LOVES to spend hours in a university library, the lure of research can be particluarly seductive. I've had to discipline myself to making specific research trips at key points during my novel's progress, rather than just flitting off every time the notion strikes me. Also I enclose research needs in square brackets while I'm writing so they're easy to find, but don't distract me too much from the story.

The other point I really liked is that whatever kind of story you're writing, it will need research. Frankly, I'm always amazed by people who say to me something like "I don't know how you write historicals - it takes so much research. That's why I write contemporaries - I don't HAVE to do any research." Have to not cringe visibly as I hear those words. If anything, writing something set in the present takes MORE research because there's a far greater chance your reader will be able to catch you out on the little details. Even if you invent a town, you still need to create a realistic background for your characters and that requires research, unless your characters are moving around in a vacuum where language, clothing, technology etc are extremely neutral - in which case your story is likely to be pretty lifeless.

Research can be intimidating, no doubt about it. Again, the article outlines a great approach - using a variety of sources, especially the reference librarian. The latter exist for a reason - not just to sit behind that desk! They WANT to help you. Honestly, they do.

The only thing I would like to add is the necessity to document all your sources. This is vitally important. Most published writers I know have told me that from time to time issues arise with their editor that requires them to back up some piece of information in their ms. If you can't do that, it doesn't look so good. As a former academic, I reference things without even thinking about it, but if you're new to this concept, the most important details you need are the name of the source, the title (if it's a book, journal article, website), publshing info (city, publisher, year OR web url) AND, most necessary of all, the PAGE number. Yep, even I've been caught out by this - noting the book, but not the page number IN the book.

I'll discuss more of this tomorrow or Monday - it's housecleaning day tomorrow and I'm going off to my RWA chapter's annual brunch in the afternoon, so might not log much computer time.


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