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#FirstDraft60 Day 25 — What Research Do You Need to Do Before You Start Writing?

Friday, September 25, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comWhether it’s figuring out where an event could be held, what the weather is like in a certain timeframe, whether or not your state has imminent domain laws, or specific details of an obscure battle five hundred years ago, you’re going to have to look stuff up. And what better time to do it than now, before you start trying to churn out 1,500 to 2,500 words per day?

We’re told to write what we know. But that advice is more about taking what we know and extrapolating it into other situations, rather than just about the specific things we’ve experienced in our lives. “Write what you know” is one of the most misunderstood instructions given about writing. Most people take it at face value, interpreting it as, “Write about only what you have personally done or experienced in the confines of your own life.” If fiction writers were to interpret it this way, we would eliminate entire genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, historical, and 99% of mystery/crime/suspense/thriller. There would be no Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk, no Luke Skywalker, no hobbits and Middle Earth, no Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, no Scarlett O’Hara, no Sherlock Holmes, no James Bond or Jason Bourne, no Superman or Batman, and no one would have ever heard of a man named Stephen King.

Figure Out What You DON’T Know
BR - Crooked ArrowsHopefully, as you’ve been going through and doing the exercises over the past three weeks, you’ve been doing research as you go. For example, when I was writing out Stone’s backstory, I spent an awful lot of time researching lacrosse teams—for children, at the schools where he attended elementary and secondary, and at the university where I ended up having him go on a scholarship to play lacrosse. I’d already done my research on the degree programs at that university, so it worked out well that Georgetown not only has an NCAA lacrosse team, but they reached the Final Fours/Semifinals in the national championship the year Stone would have been a senior (which turned out to be one of the only times in his life when his father expressed pride in him verbally). And I wouldn’t have figured this out if I hadn’t done my research while working on backstory. (And yes, the idea to have the sport he played growing up be lacrosse and not football or baseball is because his template, Brandon Routh, was in a movie called Crooked Arrows about lacrosse, which is where that image is from—see how helpful character casting can be?)

Even if you’re writing a contemporary novel set in the city/neighborhood where you live, you’re still going to find that there are things you’re going to have to research. And it’s to your advantage before a marathon writing challenge like this one or NaNo to get as much research done as possible beforehand.

Assignment 1: If you haven’t already, add a RESEARCH section to your Story Bible.

In the Research section of my Story Bible, I already have a few pages:
Story Bible - Research
At this point, because I don’t know exactly how much I need to know about linguistics (beyond what I remember from the one course I took as an undergrad), I’ve just started a collection of articles I’ve run across over the past few weeks that I know would be of interest to Stone.

But what about all that research I just said I did about lacrosse? Well, that’s actually included in Stone’s character section on his backstory page. Because while I needed to know that for the development of his character, it probably isn’t anything I’m going to need to refer to while writing the story. I do, however, need to create a page in the Resource section for FBI/BAU Team, because even though he no longer works there, his experience there is integral to certain interactions he’ll have with the heroine—because she features FBI/BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) agents in her novels (and, as it turns out, the consultant she and the other writers for the TV show based on her novels work with is the now-retired agent who recruited Stone into the FBI and helped him get into the BAU). I know that there’s going to be some kind of linguistic element that Alex needs help with in the book she’s currently writing, which she’ll ask Stone for help figuring out. But I’m not that deep into my plotting yet (and I know—we’re less than a week away from our writing start date; I need to get on the ball!). Which brings me to . . .

Assignment 2: After reviewing your character backstories/information, your premise, outline, and everything else you’ve already created, create pages in the Research section of your Story Bible for all of the subjects which you think you might need to research—and start gathering research!

If you’ve already done some research, or at least gathered resources (like a bookmarks folder in your web browser where you’ve been saving links to websites) go ahead and add those to your Research section. If you realize that there are some important topics/issues/laws/historic details/etc. that you’re going to need to research, go ahead and create pages for them, even if they’re blank. Having them there whenever you look at that section will remind you of the research you need to do.

How much research do you need to do in the next six and a half days before we start writing?

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