Whether you write contemporary or historical, or even non-fiction, there will be something (okay, “somethings”) you’ll need to research. So how do you go about it?
If you’re a plotter, you might research up front ’til the cows come home. You know your story. You know what your characters will encounter along the way. You know the facts you need to include. So you spend hours before writing that first word of the manuscript lining up all the information you need to whiz right through the book.
If you’re a pantser, you know nothing. Well, almost nothing. You may know your story’s basic premise or story question. You may know your main character’s name and occupation. You may know some or all of the plot points. You wait to see how the events unfold in real time and bar research details from invading your office until the end of the first draft.
If you’re me, you’re more a plantser—an in-betweener who knows the main characters, the main story, the plot points, the setting, and (on occasion) the ending. I do some preliminary research to get to know my physical setting and make sure my basic plot makes sense for the time period. Otherwise, research for details is generally done as I go. I’m not one to include a place marker in my manuscript which lets me know I need to come back to something to find the right word or fact. Nope, if I have a question, I stop and look it up—a good reason why it takes me so long to finish my project. :)
Whatever writing method best describes you and no matter how enjoyable it is, research can be an important time drain. How often have you started out looking up some fact and wandered onto another trail? Before you know it, you take a side tunnel and risk not finding your way back to the original spot for hours.
Here are a few tips that might help you to research better no matter what the method:
- Set a timer. Knowing you only have a certain number of minutes to find the information you need can keep you focused. Whether a plotter or pantser, you have a specific time dedicated to writing. Research is part of that time. You don’t want to waste it on things that don’t matter. If you find another interesting tidbit, be strong! Make a note and go back later for a more in-depth look.
- Be specific with search terms. The more specific your search terms, the less time it will take to weed through the results and find the information you need.
- Take an hour (half hour, fifteen minutes) each day before you begin writing to check or recheck the facts you’ll include in your upcoming scene(s). For pantsers and planters, allow time after your writing session to be sure the details you added to make your story pop are appropriate and factual.
- Keep some type of research notebook. One of the things I’m trying to do is update a notebook I keep with pertinent and miscellaneous information regarding various times in history, so I have facts at my fingertips when needed. On my computer, I bookmark sites with interesting info I come across that I feel will be useful in the future. They're becoming unwieldy, so I’m trying to transfer some of those sites to a notebook and break it up into sections. (I don’t know, I guess I like to write on paper sometimes.)
Frankly, when I researched time-saving tips like the above, there wasn't much out there, so these are off the top of my head. Maybe you have the secret that will keep us from getting lost in a maze of facts. If so ...