Yup. I’ve got peeps writing my Tuesday blogs. What else would SLACKER-SHELLY do, right? But really all, I planned Tuesdays for guest bloggers because I’m supposed to be working on finishing up Secondhand Shoes. But my original editor died and now I’ve got Glowstick. And now on Tuesdays, I’m not here. I’m with my daughter so she can spend time with her baby. Oh, the life of a novice writer trying to get out of the novice thing into a real writer’s way.
So today, William Kendall, a/k/a, Sir Wills is my guest. He’s one of the most sweetest and supportive guys I know of. He always seems to make it over to my blogs and leave a comment every time I post . It amazes me because lately, I struggle to get to everyone in a week-babies take time and patience. I kind of forgot about that.
Allow me to hand over my blog now. Sir Wills take it away.
So there you are, in the middle of your manuscript, checking yet another fact for, let’s see now… the twenty eighth time today, and a thought runs through your head.
What was I thinking when I started writing this?
It goes through all our heads. To one degree or another when we write, we’re going to have to do research. For some of us (your truly), a book is research intensive. For others, it’s a matter of tracking down small details, little items like a name or the way a place might look in a given season. Either way, it can be time consuming, maddening, and have you wondering just how difficult it would be to hide the body of that manuscript you’ve been working on. The answer is very hard. The manuscript wouldn’t let you do it easily, you know…
Anyway, I thought I’d talk about the research process as it’s applied to my own work. I’ve been spending a good while writing the novel Heaven & Hell. The book, which is the first of a series of spy thrillers, required a large amount of research both before and during the writing process. That meant background research before I got started writing. Much of the book is set in the Middle East, so this required reading books on the history of the region, on archaeology, architecture, culture, and so on. I did mention it was research intensive, right?
While I spent time outlining and plotting out the book, I absorbed all of this material, thinking of where to place things, how to distil it into a final product. I quickly realized that the research would be an ongoing process during the writing (which I was right about, even to the end of the book). There are all sorts of little questions that come up during writing that you have to sort out and find the answers to. Hence more research. For a lot of this, the internet is a godsend… As long as you confirm everything.
Some of those are little things. Searching for character names, for instance, is little, but it might mean looking in baby name books or online, particularly if, in my case, you’re after foreign names. It might mean mixing and matching between surnames and first names of famous people from a given nation. That’s research. You might not think it is at first, but it is.
Other items that come up during writing tend to be more complex. I wrote a key sequence in the book involving a military fighter jet. I’ve pored over military websites and schematics for quite awhile at a time, gleaning as much details as I can and going from there. I’ve examined accounts of terrorist and counter terrorist incidents. I’ve looked through sites dedicated to military paraphernalia, tactics, equipment, ranks, and so on. I’ve looked at museum, hotel, and tourist site websites for just the right kind of information. I’ve even used an interactive feature through a key exhibit in one museum to structure a sequence halfway through the book. This comes in very handy when the museum in question is halfway around the world.
A lot of this would be much more difficult without the use of the computer. For research, the computer has become an ideal tool for us as writers (just don’t rely on wikipedia). It gives us access to items that would be too far at hand, lets us take a look into archives and first hand material that might be too hard to come by naturally. For Heaven & Hell, research has been a cornerstone to move the book along.
I thought I’d close with another avenue for research: asking questions. I have inquired with professionals in the field, either through websites or personally, for input on any number of things. I’ve chatted with embassy officials about a great number of things that gave me focus and direction where I was a bit hazy early on. I’ve talked with police officers about the ins and outs of weapons. I’ve even talked with fire fighters about the effects of an explosion. And it’s not just professionals. We all have online acquaintances with people around the world. Asking someone you know who might be living in a country you’re writing about a certain detail gets you answers and insights. Asking questions, in short, counts as research.
Not everyone will be writing something as research intensive as I am. Still, it comes in at some point, and usually more frequently then you thought it did. How do you handle the dreaded research phase or phases of your writing? Do you grind your teeth? Relish the challenge? Or sooth your jangled nerves with copious amounts of chocolate?
I would like to thank Shelly for letting me run wild here today, and I swear, I have no idea how that Ming vase fell off the shelf.
No problem, Sir Wills, it must be God and His Universe testing my patience again. Stuff seems to be happening in my life. Curve balls bite, you know.
Oh and before I leave everyone, you can find Sir Will’s blog Speak of the Devil .
Later in the ink all,