Friday, 13 January 2012

Doing Research

 Lots of people, including other published author's that I knew, told me how lucky I was to have the internet available to me because when they were researching they had to do everything 'old school'. So, I thought, great! This is going to be fantastic! I'll just be able to type something into a search engine and BAM! No problemo, right?
I found out really quickly that you have to be very particular about the keywords you put into a search engine, because you'd be shocked by some of the randomness pops up, especially when you're looking for something vampire related.
I also found out that some historical texts people have not bothered to put online. I don't know why, but the information is just not there. And, yes, wikipedia is a good jumping off point but those books that they list at the bottom as reference are NOT online! Most of that info isn't even close to being online, and anyone who tells you different is seriously deluded.

The reality of internet research is that all it does is point you in the right direction. In no way will it give you all the information you need, and if you want to write books with any kind of history in them you're going to have to kick it old school and read a book.
 And, history books are really...well....wordy? I'm not sure the best way to explain it except there is a lot of extra information, especially royal biographies! When you pick up a royal biography, probably 100 pgs out of a 400 pg book are actually about the person, the rest about the political climate and other details about what was going on in their country during their reign. While this is all important, its not so helpful in building a character.

Kelley Armstrong recommended these fantastic encyclopedia's about supernatural beings that are amazing when creating a character - most of these sorts of books have information from several different cultural references right at your fingertips. It's as good as the internet, and looks cool on your bookshelf. I suggest to anyone who's writing something with fantasy creatures (and I'm talking everything from mermaids to vampires to dragons to banshee's to morrigan's) to pick up these sorts of books wherever they can find them. It was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. 

So, I must say quite loudly to anyone who's starting to research a book, do not be so naive to think you can find everything on the internet. You will be disappointed, and I wouldn't want your novel to come to a screeching halt just because you have to kick it old school. And that's what writer's do, right? They read. If you don't read, you'll have a hard time writing a book in general.
So dig out your dusty old library card, here in Toronto you can order from the library's online site and get it sent to your local branch, and get digging! And you may want to make a budget for yourself to buy research materials - the library is for those that are too pricey to buy, unless you can find them used.

Another major issue that I've seen in regards to research is that a writer can get so bogged down in it that they never write a word. In a strange way, you'll always feel like you don't enough. But, the beautiful thing is that you can simply write it the way that you see it while you're doing research, you can always go back and change it, if needed.

I think that some people walk into a book that involves writing history thinking its simple, assuming that since they know a little they know everything , but its very far from it. Then they get so overwhelmed by what they need to know, sometimes they even give up. And I think that's sad. We lose a lot of great stories that way.

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