Thursday, June 26, 2014

Beyond Creativity: The Importance of Research

Good day, bloggers! Shocked to see me? Believe me, you're not the only one who's surprised; I fully intended on leaving you in agonized suspense for another half-year or so, but seeing as I'm here for the second time in one month I thought I'd talk about a topic that is often left out of the writing discussion: research.

This is not what most people want to think about when they ponder being an author. Everyone tends to focus on the romantic elements, the magical spark of imagination lighting up the page, but the research is important in making sure that spark can shine. In short, it behooves you to know what you're talking about. Unless you're someone like Madeleine L'Engle, whose written universe is pulled purely from your own head, your story will not exist in a vacuum. It's part of the world around it, and ensuring that that world is depicted accurately will lend your manuscript a layer of authenticity that makes everything else in it seem more believable.

Take me.

I am, as you know, a writer in my own right, and have recently embarked upon a project of my own after editing projects for so many others. I won't go into too much detail lest I indulge in shameless self-promotion, but suffice to say that this story involves an old mansion, a dwarf orgy, more slavery than I am comfortable with, and the great state of Pennsylvania.

(I know I joke quite a bit, but the above is all sadly very true.)

And I am researching all of those things. I will hopefully not be participating in all of them--the slave trade and the dwarf sexcapades in particular aren't my cup of tea--but I will read about them thoroughly. I will interview knowledgeable sources. Where applicable, I will visit historical sites. And the information therein accumulated will form the narrative backdrop of a book that, I can assure you, will be nothing short of brilliant. I've allowed JK the top spot for several years now out of courtesy, but I'm 26. It's my time to shine.

When your time to shine comes, do it right: if you're writing about a 32-year-old dental hygienist who finds Mr. Right, take the time to actually speak to a dental hygienist. Ask if you can shadow her at work. Maybe sign up for an OKCupid account so you can experience first hand the impotent frustration of online dating.

Historical novel? Head to Gettysburg, or London, or Normandy, or wherever it is the thing takes place. And if you absolutely can't, then speak to a curator, historian, or some other figure who can give you the facts and perspective you need.

Hell, last weekend I found myself swigging brandy while singing a song about drag-dressing gods to the tune of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville," all in the name of literature. (This actually happened)

In the end, it's worth it, and your projects and mine will have the dimension they need. So tell me: what do you do for research? What goes in to making your novel great?


  1. Wikipedia. Lots and lots of Wikipedia.
    Also, Google Books and Project Gutenburg and old cookbooks.
    Or sometimes I just ask my dad.
    No visiting places for me. I am poor.

  2. Hey there...going through my blog roll and thought, hmmm, wonder what Mr. Vaughan has been up to. I actually loved the research part of setting up a novel. For places I couldn't actually visit, like Vietnam, I read everything I could get my hands on at the library and surfed the web for hours on end and talked to those I knew who had been there . Even watched all the movies, (Platoon, my favorite 5 or 6 times). For more recent current events, I probe gently and eavesdrop and talk to Dad (he's 94 and knows everything). Good luck with all your projects. You post about as often as I was through the summer.