#FirstDraft60 Day 25: Have You Done Enough Research? #amwriting #nanoprep #nanowrimo
Whether 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
Hopefully, 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, in trying to write out my heroine’s backstory, I needed to know where her father (a Royal Navy officer) could be stationed and what he could be doing as a spy/spymaster for the War Department during all those years. So I did this:
Now, back toward the beginning of this year, when I first started working on this story idea, I knew I wanted it set in the months leading up to the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, one of the seminal Naval battles in the Napoleonic War. But all of the research that I did for the Ransome Trilogy was focused on 1814 and the short-lived peace after many, many years of war and before the final battle of Waterloo. A lot of things were different, not only for my characters, but also for the Royal Navy and for England herself in the nine years between these settings/events. So while I had a basic knowledge that the Battle of Trafalgar happened in October 1805, it was a surprising but decisive victory for Britain, and it’s the battle in which Admiral Horatio Nelson lost his life aboard HMS Victory, I didn’t really know much about what the immediate events were leading up to it or how those might work for my story. So, back then, I did this:
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.
At this point, this is all just general research—topics I think I might need information on in order to write this story. But because I’m still deep in trying to figure out exactly where my story is going (mostly on land and staying in Europe vs. mostly at sea and sailing to Madeira and then Barbados) and what actual historical events my characters might take part in, I’m not necessarily sure exactly how specific I need to get with this research. Which leads 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 specific 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. For example:
For Discussion: How much research do you need to do in the next six days (counting today!) before we start writing?
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