R is for…Research

I wasn’t sure up until about two minutes ago what the R post was going to be about. If you’ve been with me for the entire journey so far on this A-Z blog challenge, you will know from my A post that I started the challenge on a whim with no forethought whatsoever and I chose the theme to tie in with this whole blog which did originally start as a trip through my WIP. (Ooh another rhyme.)

I’ve been worried about X (I say worried, I’m not really worried as much as excited to see what the heck I come up with) all the while, but I never even considered R. R is such a normal letter. Many things start with R. Though apparently not for me to blog about my WIP.

My options running through my brain this morning were:

1) Rainstone: My main protagonist’s surname but there is not much to say about that and he will be covered in the T post.

2) Re-writes; but I think I pretty much covered that in the P for Prologue post.

3) Royalty: This was in my head for a while however, too much of the plot will be given away if I delve into this and so I decided against this.

Instead I’ve settled on research as, as any writer knows, you have to do quite a lot of this even when writing fiction.

Every writing advice blog I’ve read stresses the importance of doing your research and getting your facts straight. And rightly so, because  someone as nit-picky as me may well end up reading my book and as I am one of those sad humans who will go and look things up that I’ve read in fiction, I wouldn’t want to be getting it wrong. One of the things I’ve always been in awe of with the Harry Potter series was the fact that J.K Rowling had so many subtle references to mythical and legendary stories through the character’s names, objects and beasts.  The etymology behind  the spell names was also great.  I would go away and look stuff up after reading and say “Ohhh , wow THAT’S where that comes from”. It all seemed so effortless. I’m guessing it wasn’ t but I’m also guessing she didn’t do what I’ve done and just leave it to her random muse. She must have done her research and done it BEFORE she wrote each book. I’d imagine anyway. It all seems too flawless to not have been planned that way

However despite being a nit-picky, check your facts type of reader, as a writer I am terrible at actually doing research for my writing. My method has gone something like this:

1) Have an idea. A light-bulb moment usually whilst in the shower or driving.

2)Write a few notes then write into the WIP what I think I know.

3) Google countless sites to verify what I know.

4) Change that section of the  WIP to either a) fit the new information or b) introduce the new information


5) Do a little dance of joy that I  hit the jackpot with my hit and miss approach to using my fuzzy head knowledge and that my original thought from Step 1, whatever mad-cap randomness t was  actually, happily, fits the WIP.  and then bask in my own glory thank you very much. 

6) Completely delete said idea from step 1 because it just wouldn’t be plausible.

Despite this cavalier approach to research, for this novel, Prophecy Of Innocence (a children’s fantasy quest adventure trilogy) my research has had to actually be quite thorough in parts. As it is set in a time past and some events in the real world affect the fantasy world, a lot of the research has been historical.

I had to research when canal building began in Britain and find out if  this tied in with the geography of the elfling’s journey. I had to research how canals were constructed in the 18th century. As I said though, I had some ideas before I wrote but in my usually inefficient writing manner I would write a scene then go and Google what I needed to know and  then add in any relevant missing details. I did have to change the geography slightly as a result and bring dates back, but essentially I had it right. However, as they say “The devil is in the detail” and so being a little right is never enough.  I also had to research coal mining and find out when that began to ensure it would fit in to the time scale. The last thing I would want is for someone to be reading the story and be thinking: “Hold on, no-one was down a coal mine until such and such a year”. (i.e my mum. My mum would definitely point out any historical inaccuracies to me.) I found myself also researching when workhouses were first in operation in the country and I found the name of one in Bristol where some of the story takes place which I did not change for the book.

I’ve had to research different types of fungi (which you can read more about here) as well as find out about naturally found herbs, types of trees and plants in Britain at the time. I had an image in my book for a long time of walnut shells being used for a certain purpose. However, I recently thought: “Hold on, I don’t think walnuts are native to Britain” and guess what? No they are not. I am glad I do check things like this because I’d be mortified if someone else had to. I suppose I would save myself an awful lot of re-writes and edits if I just did my research properly before I put finger to keyboard but old habits die hard and besides, quite often I don’t even know what I want to research until I’ve written anyway! This comes from only having a very loose outline. *Slaps own wrists.

Further to the aforementioned I’ve also needed to research: moles, fireflies, natural dyes, how paper used to be made, Celtic/Gaelic languages, places, place names, mercury, cinnabar and medicinal herbs.   I am only a third of the way through Book 2 so I’m sure I’m going to have to do much more research as I go a long.

I quite like the research part of writing. Usually it leads me into discovering other things I can use elsewhere in my WIP. Today for example I have just had a light-bulb moment about something in Book 3 as a result of writing this blog post on research. So I am now off to break my own habit and do some up-front research whilst the idea is but a seedling.

I’d love to hear how other writers tackle research. Are you disciplined and organised, researching at the point of outline? Or are you like me and do it as you go along? It’d be great to hear your experiences.

*Disclaimer: No research whatsoever was undertaken in the writing of this blog post.


Filed under Designing, Editing, Plot Development, Writing

5 responses to “R is for…Research

  1. Writers who dedicate time to ascertain the highest level of perfection attainable regarding accuracy and how to weave this into the story care about what they are doing. Readers never witness this part—the struggles, the time, the energy, the tears, the self-doubt, and it is something all writers, including best-selling novelist go through, so don’t get discouraged. I tip my hat to your hard work and commitment to continue forward.

    Research always starts out fun for me, then I get bogged down in details, all my notes become unorganized, and I get overwhelmed and have to take a breather. It sounds like you know what you are doing and that you’ve dedicated a lot of time into making sure your story is accurate, and it makes me much more interested in your work.

    And, I know what you mean about research. The most research I have done is for my main fantasy WIP, which is one reason it’s still a WIP after almost seven years (that, and I’ve rewritten the beginning several times, lol). I found myself looking up the geology of Ireland, rocks and minerals, the layers of the earth, the distance to the core of the earth, both Irish history and mythology, spending a good amount of time researching the mythical invasions of Ireland, castle and architecture terms, Celtic symbols, and even though I visited Ireland, I’ve spent hours scouring the countryside on Google Maps to make sure I get roadways, landscapes, and directions accurate.

    • It’s amazing the things you do end up researching sometimes! You are right of course that those who do the research really care and I think the trick of a good writer is to weave it in in such a way that it makes it seems as though you were an authority on that subject, even if you knew little to start with. I know my early draft were very guilty of me information dumping to just get it down. Then I had to play around more to build in the research and not make it seem contrived. It’s hard work. I know once I get to book 3 I’m going to have to do far more research on the city the novel is set in. It will be then I regret not setting it where I live!

  2. I am definitely the “disciplined and organised” type. I’m writing a sci-fi / historical fiction novel set in the first century Roman Empire. Though most of what I need to know is in my head (I studied archaeology at uni) I still have had to do a lot of research – even simple things such as what Roman street food consisted of, when the Coliseum was built, which baths in the city were built and when… all to give the story a firm grounding in the year I want it to be set.

    On their journey my group travels to modern day Trier (which I know to be a Roman city). That meant I had to research the Roman roads they would have taken and what the city might have looked like. The city has a famous surviving Black Gate which wasn’t built until the 2nd century. I initially described it and then had to scrub that bit out 🙂

    • I can imagine if writing a completely historical novel the research must be quite time consuming, but it is so important to get it right. Unless of course you are HBO making The Tudors then you can do what you like! A Sci-Fi/historical novel set during the 1st Century sounds fascinating and very involved I’d imagine.
      It is a pain when you find something out which means you have to scrub it form your WIP!
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Much appreciated. 🙂

  3. Pingback: U is for…Underground and Under-developed | Writeaway

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