Anyway, I digress. I personally like to pump plenty of fun into writing, because it turbo-charges my efforts and drives me forward. And that applies as much to the initial stages of a book as it does the finishing touches.
It Starts With a Single Idea
You’ve got a corking idea for a book… now what? Do you leap straight in and start typing? Do you let it simmer for a while, then jot down a rough idea of the plot? Or do you shelve it for months, until you’re ready to get going with it?
My approach, after I’ve got a stormer of an idea, is to start researching it almost immediately. Now, you might think that some books require no research whatsoever, but I’d disagree. Allow me to explain.
Why Do You Need Research Anyway?
Research gives your book the depth and breadth it needs to become credible; and I’d say this applies just as much to high fantasy as it does to a historical tome. It’s those little details that paint a canvas in your book; but if those details are inaccurate, you’ll lose your reader’s belief.
Research can also give clarity to your writing. For example, if you’re penning a novel about working for NASA, your audience expects to read about the NASA buildings, the personnel, and the procedures involved with space missions etc. Even if you’re writing about a made-up place in some distant galaxy, you’ll still need to do research into different terrains and environments, to give your writing a sense of authenticity.
How Do You Make Research Fun?
When I’m getting started, I usually do the following:
- Jot down the key questions. I’ll try to identify what the most important things are for me to find out. For example, with the Dr Ribero series, I knew that I needed to get to grips with popular folklore and legends, and I wanted to get more familiar with the locations featured in the books; Exeter, Lyme Regis, London and Whitby (that one’s a future book!).
- Then work out HOW. Next job is to figure out how I’ll find the answers. Sometimes, it requires nothing more than a browse on the internet or a visit to the local library. Other times, things get trickier. I like to visit locations in person, but that’s not always possible – and that’s where Google Maps comes in really handy. Photos are also useful, not to mention TV programmes, songs, other works of fiction… the list is endless. I’ve been working on a book set in the 18th century recently, and had enormous fun re-watching a televised version of Moll Flanders – it gave me some great insight into clothing, marital relations, attitudes to females and so forth.
- Gather it all up. You’ve got all those wonderful notes – now what do you do with them? Over the years, I’ve tried pretty much every method going; stuffing them into folders, jotting it all down in notepads, even writing them all up in Scrivener. However, the most effective way for me is definitely the ‘stick ‘em all to the wall’ approach. My office walls are coated in my notes, literally up to the ceiling. It’s messy, but it’s a great way to access information quickly.
- Play around with your ideas. I’d always recommend adopting a playful approach with your research notes (hey, we’ve got to get our kicks from somewhere, haven’t we?). Remember, it’s okay challenge popular opinion! To use the first Ribero book as an example – I took the popular Bloody Mary myth and turned it on its head, because it’s great fun to add an element of surprise.
What Are Your Research Techniques?
Most writers agree that research is pretty fundamental – but we all do it differently! What’s your approach? If you’ve got some great ideas to share, do get in touch via social media.