Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ask O: Four Tips for Faster Research

Hi it’s me, Ocieanna! You may remember my Wednesday Grammar-O posts. I had to take a break from Seriously Write for a few months due to a cardiac arrest. (It’s a pretty dramatic story. You can learn more about it on Anyway, we decided to change my Wednesdays a little bit. Rather than coming up with topics I think you’ll find helpful, I’m throwing you the ball. That’s right. I’ll be answering your questions. Your job is merely to ask them.

So, be sure to write me a note in the comments section (or contact me privately through with your writing questions about topics like:

grammar (I can’t completely hang up my Grammar-O hat!)
whatever you come up with!

I’ll do my best to answer them. Remember what my seventh-grade English teacher said, “The only dumb question is the one not asked.”

This week’s question: How do you keep research from taking over the writing process?

That question resonates with me! Especially with my World War II novel, there were times when I got buried seeking one specific detail. Then, as I searched, an unrelated, but fascinating, factoid would nab my attention. Soon enough, I was strolling down a completely different path than I’d intended, depleting my precious writing time. Whether historical or contemporary; fiction or nonfiction, research can morph into a black hole—warping time and seizing you in.

Here are four tips that helped me avoid the black hole.

First, Don't Take the Scenic Route
Remember the scene in The Hobbit when Bilbo and his crew are about to travel through a dark, dangerous, spider-filled forest? Gandalf warns them repeatedly to “stay on the path.” Of course their curiosity propels them to stray. Veering off the road gets them lost and (much worse) the nightmare-inducing spiders spin them into their webs.

The moral? Stay focused! After a few time-consuming entanglements, I learned the discipline of not letting anything keep me from that detail I needed. Then, after I found it, I allowed myself a limited time (fifteen minutes max) to follow my interests, before getting back to writing.

Second, Take a Bath
… in your subject, that is. When studying the 1940s, if my husband wanted to watch a movie, I picked My Favorite Wife or His Girl Friday both from that time period. While checking my e-mail, I listened to The Andrew’s Sisters. My relaxing reading material became historical fiction about World War II. I saturated myself in the topic, so when I sat down to write, it flowed naturally.

Third, Write It Down
In addition, as I read, watched, or listened, I kept a notebook close by, jotting down yummy tidbits I might use. I accumulated fun slang: “He’s all wet.” “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” “Ah applesauce!” I also wrote notes about what they wore and the furniture. Then when I needed historical bits to spice up a scene, I easily flipped through my notebook and didn’t have to lose precious time online.

Fourth, Have a Purpose
Besides the little nuggets, sometimes big-picture ideas struck. As I researched Victory Heights, I learned about a Japanese submarine attack on a military base in Oregon. Awesome! I wanted to use it, but rather than filing it away for later, I took the time to plan the scene. I chose which characters would be involved, where I’d fit it into the plot, and why the characters cared about it. Doing this when I found it saved a bunch of time trying to figure it out later.

Want to know more about how I research? Ask! Leave a comment below and you may find it on the next Ask O Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. Donna Harmon ( 13, 2011 at 7:01 AM

    These are WONDERFUL tips, I plan to start implementing them immediately!


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