Writing Research: Pain or Pleasure?

I don’t write sci-fi or medical thrillers or historical anything.  Not because I don’t love reading them, but because the research needed to make the finished product accurate and believable is outside my realm of capability.

And yet, I research heavily for almost everything I write.  For an entire year before penning Whispering Minds, my YA psychological thriller, I scoured the annals of psychology and read book after book–both memoirs and hardcore textbooks–to get a broad understanding of my subject matter, as well as a very nuanced view of individual cases.  And I have a psychology background!

Before penning even one word about my Native American MC, I read countless websites, highlighted hundreds of passages in several new books I purchased and conversed with real-live Indians.

Now, I find myself steeped in viewing youtube videos and reading a multitude of new books on a certain delicate subject.  And this is just the start.  Over the course of the next six months, I will continue to ferret out as much information as I can on the matter, although, barring a strange occurence, I don’t plan to start this next novel until November.

I’m an information junkie.  I love reading about any and every topic I can think of.  I love piecing together little things to create something new and exciting.  I love writing fiction.  I love the creative license it gives me to manipulate facts within the realm of acceptable.

But first I must learn the realm before I can push the outer boundaries.  And so I research.  To me, reading about obscure topics is exhilarating.  Research of this kind is so much pleasure that I almost feel guilty.

How about you?  Do you research your novel ideas before ever writing, or do you wing it and confirm facts later?  Or do you simply write within the realm of the “common known” to avoid painful research?  Or, conversely, do you write so far out of the realm of normal that you create a world of unknowns?

Does research give you hives, or do you derive pleasure from tracking down any and all information you can on a topic?  What does research look like for you?

Curious minds want to know.


14 responses to “Writing Research: Pain or Pleasure?

  1. I love research to the point of distraction, but you probably guessed that about me. LOL

  2. I research before and during writing … during can lead to distractions sometimes. Many times I just need a few details to flesh out a section and search for photos. One can see where stairs are located on a building they use, neighboring businesses, etc.
    I love the research process as long as it is from reputable sources. I also enjoy updating my research.
    Also, having had long-term experience in the SF Bay Area, Norway, the construction trades, corrections, Dept. of Justice, American Embassy, criminals (USA & Norway) & apologetics, to name a few, helps me to define numerous characters’ details – I am relaxed writing about them and their dialogue.

    • I totally get the relaxation that comes from knowing. It’s easier to write–in my opinion–when I have a firm grasp of the subject matter.

      Nice tip on the photos. I know some people make story boards of their characters and settings and can see where this kind of visual research/reminder would come in handy.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. So far I haven’t picked a setting/chara that I don’t have a personal interest in so I actually enjoy the research process. I tend to do most of it upfront but inevitably wind up with bits and pieces I have to track down mid-writing. My prob is generally knowing when to quite taking notes and starting on the manuscript.

    • I can see that happening: getting so wrapped up in the research (because you can just keep digging nearly forever!) it’s hard to start the actual project.

      Yet your type of story (and Victoria’s) is exactly the kind of writing project that scares me. I just picture myself being called out as a fraud when I failed to get the 1001st detail exactly right.

      Le sigh

      That’s why I leave the hard stuff to those better equipped than myself.

  4. I really love research, in part because I appreciate when an author has taken the time to make sure something is write. Also in part because I’m a huge nerd and love to research things. I can always tell the difference between a novel, no matter how fictional, that has been researched where it counts and one who didn’t.

    • So true, isn’t it. Like having too many players on the baseball diamond or drinking Mountain Dew before it was invented. Even little things like that–which we believe we know–we should double check to make sure astute readers don’t get ripped out of our stories.

      Great point.

  5. I love research, too. And when the manuscript is finished I double check all of my ‘fiction facts’. Sometimes (a lot of times) I’ll take what I’ve learned about a subject or a place and change it just a bit, so it fits with the story. I love doing this. 🙂


    • And this is a skill you do admirably, my dear. I love your books and how natural the information feels within the context of your setting and characters. You are one impressive writer.


  6. I admit to writing what I know. But then you limit yourself. I also admit to having a big historical fiction project that has stalled for over a decade because I’m intimidated by the research.

    • Yes, but you write what you know very well. Kids. And the way they think and feel and react and act. That is the strength of your writing. Not to mention, you know how to research–er, tap into RC’s backyard–to make your details authentic. It’s likely an innate ability from being a librarian and all…knowing how to access the right information effortlessly so you don’t even know you’re researching.

      I so can’t wait for Not a Drop to Drink!!!! And this is one I expect to buy signed, since you live practically in my backyard. Kind of. A really big backyard…

  7. I started writing (my idea of) sci-fi (from a non-techie…) and fantasy precisely because I couldn’t bother with research. I loved to make up thinks, often based on dreams (the most unrealistic base for writing, trust me! ;-)). Then I started some historical research on the Middle Ages, a time that has always appealed to me on a subconscious level, and actually enjoyed the process (maybe because it had been 20+ years since high school or any other study? ;-)).
    I still write mostly fantasy, but I do research now – life of elephants, India&Persia for Air, lions & tigers for another story, technical stuff or scientific facts when rewriting the old sci-fi stuff (although it’s still more Star Wars than Asimov, know what I mean?), etc.
    I love finding random things and turning them into new stories! 😀

    • Best quote ever: I love finding random things and turning them into new stories.

      That’s the sheer beauty of writing fiction. And not being tied down to anything more than the rules of your world–whatever those may be.

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