Researching A Book


I don’t like it.

I don’t care what other people say, how many authors tell you that research can be fun, how many people tell you that, “If you’re writing a book on a topic you love, the research should be interesting!”

Research. Is. Not. For. Me.

Mostly because every minute I’m researching is a minute I’m wishing I could be drafting – exploring the story, detailing action, discovering twists and turns I didn’t know about before.

But research is necessary.  I think about all the books I’ve read that were poorly researched, and how thin they felt, how flimsily constructed.  An added detail or two, the addition of something I (as a reader) didn’t know before but that the author so clearly does, makes such a huge difference in a story.  It lets you say, “Okay, you know what?  This is real.  This is actually happening.”  No matter how crazy the story gets.

So I’ve sucked it up and have been researching for the past few weeks.  Still a bit more to go.

A couple of things I have (mostly) enjoyed researching for this WIP are the city I live in (D.C.) and the profession of my protagonist (Investigative Journalist).

For the city, it’s mostly familiarizing myself with its interesting history and the backstory of certain infamous locations.

On the Investigative Journalist front, I’ve been taking Bob Woodward’s Masterclass to add to the knowledge I already have about the profession.  (Side note: Bob Woodward is a legend).

The fun has yet to really show itself in this research, but at least progress can be found everywhere I look.  And at least I know (on my good days) how absolutely necessary it is if a writer wants his/her work to truly be the best it can be.

Can’t wait to start actually drafting!

Anyone here a big fan of researching?  What’s one of the coolest / most interesting things you’ve learned in the process?

23 comments on “Researching A Book”

  1. I enjoy firsthand research. In other words, exploring a place to see if there’s a possibility of using it as a setting. It’s my own odd version of being a tourist. The traditional research for the convincing minutiae is often dry and dull for me, and I get impatient.

  2. Count me as a research fan. I enjoy it anyway, but it takes on extra significance when I remember, “I’m learning what my character(s) already know, or what they’ll find out, to their benefit or detriment.” Current events are as important as historical research: There was a segment of my first novel, which was set in Ireland, that I was unable to develop until a particular event broke as a news story in that country, more than two years after I’d begun writing the book.

    To help develop the novel at the same time as doing research, I suggest keeping a set of notes about how each research discovery will impact the lives of the characters: past, present and future.

    1. I like that – “learning what my character(s) already know.”

      I think I actually will take that suggestion and start keeping a set of notes while I work. Sounds helpful.

      And lucky that news story broke! It’s always extra significant when current events impact a story – it deepens the connection with the reader and is just plain interesting

  3. If you don’t like research, short cut your process. Consult a librarian. If you’re researching a different country, take a vacation and visit it–that’ll be fun.

    1. Such a good suggestions – librarians are SO SO knowledgeable.

      As for vacations – I’ll have to start setting my novels in places like Tahiti or the Maldives. “Oh me? Yes, just here for research, no big deal.”

  4. I always enjoy picking up new details, so research is no chore for me.

    The biggest thing I researched was “An Gorta Mor” (or, as we know it, the Great Irish Potato Famine). I learned that the Quakers and the Choctaw Tribe of Native Americans helped out. I already knew England, which ruled Ireland at the time, didn’t do much to help, but I was appalled at the things the English did that made the situation worse. What they did would today be called a genocide.

    On a “detail” level, I had to research how a patient in a coma could have been kept alive in the 1880s. Though feeding tubes weren’t unknown, whiskey & beef broth enemas kept President Garfield alive for almost 3 months after he was shot.

    So, yeah, fascinating. At least to me.

    1. I DO love when your research takes you into some part of history that most people don’t know about – it can be as interesting some times as reading a fiction novel. When I was in Italy touring some ruins a year ago I thought, “wow, how cool would it be if my novel had some connection to Roman Republic times and I got to research all of this.”

      And that is fascinating! Obscure facts like that would be funny to just throw out at a party like, “yeah, don’t mind me, I know stuff.”

  5. I don’t like research, probably because I’m not very good at it, and also, like you I’d rather be writing.
    I set my books in cities I know, cuts down on the Google searches.

  6. As long as I don’t have to use any citation formatting )MLA, APA, Turabian), I can deal with research.

    I work in academics and used to write a lot of research papers.

  7. If I had the time and money to visit the places and seek out the experts who could answer my specific questions, I might like research more. But for me, research is online and in books. It can be frustrating when you’ve spent all your writing time reading, and you still haven’t found the answers you need.

  8. I LOVE research. Not only does it add life to my work, I often discover little gems that can be transformed into plot points. I’m currently researching phantom islands and mythical sea beasts for my 2nd book on pirates. I’m a plotter and my research has already thrown up new directions for me.

    1. Yes, I do love that! Sometimes research/history can give you these brilliant ideas for plot points you never would have thought of before. Something something ‘history is stranger than fiction’

  9. I agree that research will help your writing, and I suppose it’s what your story/characters are going to be which will determine how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. But I do feel that you can do too much reading – I’ve been guilty of it myself – and it can be a detriment to your prose if you’re not careful. Info dumping and exposition can slow the story’s pace down, as though the reader is reading a documentary.

    But for me that’s when your drafting comes in. Even the things I write on my blog go through a fair bit of rewriting if I feel the opening paragraph or dialogue is too wordy and fact-heavy, and doesn’t move the narrative along as I’d want. It’s a fine balance I find. For comedy purposes, sometime I find less description is more. I’ve done research on most of my stories on here, and look to sprinkle just enough info in their. Of course, being from England, I feel I have to bit a little selective with some of the references and colloquialisms that I could use, for fear of the work being too confusing to people like yourself and others in different countries.

    1. Oh my god NOTHING is worse than an obvious info-dump. Especially when it’s ‘disguised’ as a conversation where one character is just spewing out facts. VERY good reminder.

      And yes – thank you for helping us Americans/other countries. I do run into a lot of slang from the UK and other places that I don’t understand – although usually I really enjoy it once I figure out what it means!

  10. I find research frustrating when I’m having trouble finding the answers to my specific questions. I might be finding loads of interesting stuff, but not what I need for the scene I have in mind or such. So it does get aggravating to realize how much time I’m spending on that tiny detail that will get very little ‘screen time’ but I want it to be accurate. So it’s something I feel compelled to do (get it right) even when it is aggravating.

    Most interesting thing I’ve found? I suppose it might be that, despite what you see in movies, it is very difficult to kill someone instantly and without their making a sound. No, I don’t want to explain why I needed to know something about that.

    1. Yes – c’mon Google, get it right the first time! Sometimes you do find other interesting snippets that’ll add to the story, but sometimes it’s just a rabbit hole that’s too deep.

      Hahaha. Sometimes when I look up “how to kill someone effectively” or “how to kill quietly” I type in an extra Google search of “I’m a writer by the way” just for the FBI man that’s watching my computer

  11. I have fun researching. I have several books on medieval life and fighting which I bought to make my fantasy books a bit more believable. I like it to make sense and not have people tell me “that can’t happen because a sword is this this blah blah blah” I have done my research, and you can actually do that particular move with that particular sword/weapon of choice. 🙂

    1. That’s the way to go about it! Sounds like George RR Martin. He did ‘Full Immersion’ research which meant he did 10x more research than necessary, just so he would be able to pull out the extra correct detail now and again. Part of the reason his books feel so real!

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