Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How I Write: Research


Welcome to the third installment of the How I Write series, brainchild of Ansha Kotyk.  A group of writers are writing about how we write – scheduled for Wednesdays through August.  Please check back weekly. And click here for the list of all the writers participating and links to their blogs.

This week's topic is Research.

Now, most of us are writing fiction. Some might ask who needs to do research when you're writing fiction? Duh, we do!

My book, THE SWEET SPOT, currently on query to agents, is about a teenage girl who plays golf.  Because I played golf as a teenager, the research has been fairly light in that I know the basic terminology, the game itself, and the environment of the golf course.  But, I've still needed to look up rules, the current state of junior golf, and some details about course management.  I'm fortunate in that my parents managed a golf course in the 1980s and I have resident experts just a phone call away.  But that's research!  Depending on the topic, you might have to converse with an expert, read a similar book to yours, or do traditional information based research.

For nonfiction, I usually start by using WorldCat.org to find pertinent research materials -- then I request the titles from my local library.  It's a great and fast way to narrow down your resources.  And of course there are gazillions of websites to browse -- if you're doing general research for fiction that doesn't need to be footnoted or double checked, feel free to Google liberally.

On the other hand, if you're doing real, honest-to-goodness, it-has-to-be-100%-accurate research for a non-fiction project, you should stick to primary resources and steer clear of websites that rely on public input like Wikipedia.  You can find primary resources online (I used the NASA site a lot when I wrote my last work-for-hire title about space), but just be careful and make sure they're legit.

My new WIP might or might not have a revolutionary era ghost-type character.  Or it might be an astral projection of an out-of-body love interest.  I might need to do a bit more research for this one. :)

What kind of research do you need to do on your WIP?

15 comments:

Lisa said...

Great post on an important topic! I find that I love doing research for both fiction and non-fiction, especially historical research. In addition to the resources you mentioned, I rely a lot on library databases, both through our local county library system and the college where I teach.

Kris said...

Lisa - you're so sweet! Thanks for following here and on twitter (I'm still getting the hang of twitter). I was over on your blog reading your post on freelancing--very cool.

Ansha said...

Great link!!! Thanks, I plan to put it to good use!
For my new WIP I plan to talk to my cousins who have gone to college on sports scholarships because my current main character needs a scholarship. Getting first had experience type research is great for finding out those small details that you might not learn about in the conventional way. Just gotta think up some of those interview questions. :)

laurapauling said...

I do research for just about every story I write. Like you said, some of it is very light. That's the easiest kind for sure! And the revolutionary ghost sounds like fun!

Tina Laurel Lee said...

Yes, I second that revolutionary ghost! Fun and interesting! I like your distinction between just googling and researching for accuracy. Important point!

Anita said...

Any time I stop by here, you've got something good going on...thanks for being such a great resource!

Kris said...

Thanks Ansha, Laura, Tina and Anita! I'm glad it's helpful -- I'm really enjoying reading the different posts on research.

Kay said...

Great summary of different kinds of research and how you might use them. I'd love to share this with my students. They have such a narrow idea of research. This post might expand their minds!

Tatiana Caldwell said...

It's true that you can't rely on everything you read on the internet. I'd not heard of WorldCat.org before - I'm adding it to my notes. Thanks! Great post!

Gail Roarke said...

I agree--Wikipedia can be good for general info (as long as the topic is noncontroversial), but I use it primarily to look for citations to original sources.

Ditto Tatiana--I'd not heard of WorldCat.org, but it's definitely going to be bookmarked now!

Kris said...

Worldcat is great -- sometimes it's annoying when my local library doesn't have a particularly good book that I've found on there!

Alexia Reed said...

I've never been a fan of Wikipedia. I guess it's a take it with a grain of salt kind of thing but...still. Your new WIP sounds interesting!

Aubrie said...

Great advice on doing research! I'm writing sci fi, so I look up science stuff and then twist it up a little bit.

The Cinnamon Chocolate Dreamer said...

Great post! You all are awesome for doing these weekly HIW posts.

Kris said...

Thanks Cinnamon -- I hope you check back today, our topic is "Starting your new WIP."

Thanks for stopping by!