I think I’ve written on this topic before, but I’m in the middle of research for an article and it’s tiring. Research is not always necessary in writing, certainly. A lot of people poo poo the idea with the thought it stifles creativity. I do a lot of writing without research. I let my crazy imagination out of the starting gate and let it have its way. Research has its time and place. When I need to, I usually take great pleasure in doing research for a work of fiction (there have been a few exceptions). However, research for an article is sometimes agony, depending on the topic. I’m not completely certain why the difference, but I’ll take a stab at figuring it out. You decide whether you want to look on and watch my brain work.
I wrote a story a few years back called Searching for Gita, the Little Pearl. I did a lot of research and loved every minute of it. The story takes place on two continents, America and Poland. In the present, it took place in the 1960s, in the past, the late 30s and early 40s. I did extensive research on Poland between 1939 and a little into the early 40s after Hitler had captured Warsaw. I studied their government back then, the fall of Warsaw, some of the main players in Hitler’s regime, holocaust stories, stories of Jews who fought to stay in the city, those who escaped. I read biographical books and articles. I did not use all of this information in the story, but it helped for context as I pieced the story together. I also studied ships that left Poland to go to America, even looked at a manifest just out of curiosity. I researched Krakow and Warsaw in the 60s. I looked for Polish names popular in the time and their meanings. Every moment of research was delicious. I love history. It was a difficult story to write because it was my first foray into time and locale switches, and I had trouble with the plot. I got bogged down in too many characters. I want to put it into a book after my current endeavor, but I will make some big changes the plot but the research will still be used.
Research for my current fiction project has been tedious, even daunting. I looked into the structural hierarchy of hospitals. I spent many hours figuring out how the Ohio State medical board disciplines doctors, laws on sexual crime from a physician and also charges for a citizens for these issues. The problem is, every hospital is a little different. Titles are different, in some hospitals there’s a difference in who hires, fires, and oversees different personnel. As to the laws on sexual crime, it was hard to understand the differences and levels of charges, and how a courtroom scene would be for an underage victim. I think it’s obvious why this research was more unpleasant. I don’t need all of it, but a lot of it.
I write a lot on matters of faith and the Bible. While I am very familiar with the Scriptures, I am not an expert and there is a lot of perusing online Bible sites like Bible Gateway, Bible Tools, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, and commentaries. It’s quicker to google Scriptures on hope or the resurrection, which gives a long list, than it is to pour through a hard copy for hours on end and find them on my own. That is simply because if it’s for an article, I will never get it written, or lose interest if I wade through it in my personal bible. Most of the time I enjoy this because I love the Bible, but I can get overwhelmed taking the Scriptures and weaving them into the article. I realized today that with these kind of articles I need to do an outline.
I’ve written several articles on Bible or everyday idioms, Bible stories where they came from. Also fun.
Fluff pieces once in a while require a bit of research, but it’s not usually too daunting. I researched cow breeds and tagging for a silly story on three calves on a farm who were getting tagged. Fluff, believe me. For those familiar with my Dear Andy advice column using puns – Fluff with a capital F – it might surprise readers to know it is tedious thinking up puns for the topic and yes, I use a Thesaurus sometimes. Please don’t burn me at the stake.
Another time I researched herons when I wrote a poem on them. I didn’t need the research for the poem or story, I was just curious and figured what the heck, I’ll add it.
The nightmare research is where I’m looking for dry, boring facts, quotations if I want several. Quotes are tricky because the majority of quote sites are notorious for faulty attributions. So it’s tedious to find credible sources.
Research is to make things authentic, accurate, and context. I don’t want someone to read something I’ve written and say, that’s not plausible, that is not how it is or is done, this woman is a lazy writer. Research is unpleasant when it is time consuming and difficult to find the facts. Conflicting information is maddening. But the results are rewarding.
I encourage people to do their research, even for fiction if it will make the story authentic. Although you use more of your imagination for fiction and poetry, you want your story to be credible, unless you are a fantasy writer.
As I’m writing this, it just struck me that reading in general is research on life. It also teaches us to write. Had I not been an avid reader in my childhood, I don’t think I’d have the interest in writing, or that I could do a halfway decent job. It was reading about famous baseball players as a child that I fell in love with the game. Reading the Little House on the Prairie books taught me about survival and working hard during difficulty. Reading Flannery O’Connor taught me to love and learn to write about quirky people and weird situations. I realize she had some racism and other prejudices in her characterizations, which I despise now. But nonetheless, I was often intrigued by her characters. To Kill a Mockingbird, oh my, can’t put what I learned there in a nutshell, but I learned a lot.
Since my childhood, Erma Bombeck has been my favorite humor writer. I devoured every Erma Bombeck book several times over, read a gazillion of her columns, and her TV ditties, and I can’t deny the tremendous influence she had on me. I remember laughing until I cried while reading her books. My mom would feed off of my hysteria and laugh along with me.
If I hadn’t read my history, science, and literature books in school I’d never care about those things. I fell in love with Shakespeare and poetry in high school and had the most amazing teachers.
In closing I thought I’d share some quotes on research and a few other things from writers. Some really hit home. Please share your experiences with research in the comments.
“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” ~ Wernher von Braun
“It has recently been discovered that research causes cancer in rats.” ~ Anonymous
If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about which you know little or nothing, remember that word back. That’s where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.
You may be entranced with what you’re learning about the flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the I.Q. potential of collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story. ~Stephen King
“Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your terms.”
~ Angela Carter
“When humor goes, there goes civilization.” ~ Erma Bombeck