1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

I Think I...Suck at Research.

Discussion in 'Research' started by DragonOfTheAerie, Nov 4, 2016.

  1. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Nothing wrong with broadening your mind and your knowledge base.

    Besides, the word totals in your writing thread would suggest that your research is not stopping you from getting words on the page...
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Yabbut. There's this funny thing about research, especially for writers of fiction. You never know when you are going to find something that turns out not to be useful for the question at hand, but some time in the future. Not all who wander are lost.

    Now, I'm talking actual research here, not going down Facebook rabbit holes, right?

    Just keep Evernote or OneNote or whatever handy. Shovel stuff in, though I do have one caveat. Actually read what you research. Don't just dump stuff half-read. It needs to go into your *brain* first, *then* into computer storage. Just taking snapshots is the online equivalent of highlighting books (a pernicious practice).
  3. I'm putting off the research until the second draft...pretty much winging it for now. Trying to get every detail correct in the first draft would take a lot of time, and in a first draft where the scenes in which I'm needing the research might be cut...no point. Once I'm done with the first draft I'm going to take a break of a few weeks, in which I will do a ton a research. It'll be more efficient that way, I think.
  4. No, research holes, not Facebook holes. I'm prone enough to Facebook holes, lol.

    As I think I said earlier: researching rainforests, ended up watching a documentary on how the palm oil industry is destroying East Asian rainforests...that sort of thing.

    And hey! Highlighting books is helpful! I do agree with your point though...
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Nope. Highlighting is a blight. Take notes, by hand if at all possible, but I'll allow for typing. Summarize what you read in your own words. That's how you learn. Highlighting isn't research, it's coloring. Plus, it distracts when you come back to the same source but with different questions.

    As for putting off research, I have degrees of research. I put off plenty of things, in part of avoid chasing squirrels, but also because that research item I thought would be important at one stage of planning and writing ... turns out I didn't use it at all. Even more, the things I wanted to know when I got down to the actual paragraph get spun in various ways. As often as not, I wind up writing the scene and only then doing the research to fill in blanks, confirm veracity, get the geography right, etc.
    Heliotrope likes this.
  6. RedFable

    RedFable Acolyte

    I feel ya! I bounce from subject to subject in writing and I get where you are coming from. Lately I have been drawn to things that I would not normally be drawn to in terms of research, things that necessarily have anything immediately to do with what I am trying to write. It's frustrating, but I finally gave and like a chocoholic with a bagful of Godiva, I indulged in my curiosity. I found out that while I may not be getting the exact answers I need on what I started my research on, I learned about other things that made me take a look at some other parts of my story that irritated me to no end. I was and am able to go back and add another layer (i.e. add depth) to pieces that had me stumped.
    I let some time passed researching whatever happened to catch my interest and before I knew it, I got an intense urge to research what I had originally set out to research. Sometimes, this is our mind's way of telling us we need a break or hey, there is a missing element and this may provide that piece(s) you need to continually flesh out your story. Food for thought, if you will.
  7. SergeiMeranov

    SergeiMeranov Scribe

    What I'd suggest is write until a topic you need to research comes up. Then go and research that specific thing. So, if your character is going to get into a fight where throwing knives are her weapon of opportunity/choice then write up to that point, write what you think sounds good for the scene, and then go and research to make sure it doesn't sound absurd.

    I'm an attorney by training so it naturally entails a lot of research on various occasions. One of the things that you learn very quickly is that in order for research to be effective you need to have a specific question to which you need an answer. If I set out to research the entire scope of the Supreme Court's rulings on the 4th amendment it'd be years before I could even scratch the surface of all of it, but if what I really want to know is when has the Court said it's OK for officers to conduct a warrant-less search of a closed container in a motel room that the defendant rented for the night then I'm more likely to quickly get a better answer to my question.

    The same principle, I think, holds true for research you conduct to write a better or more believable story. I, like many of you it sounds like, have gone down the rabbit hole of general research for a story of fictional world. I've spent afternoons reading about how different climate zones form and what the features are of each and whether it's believable that chaparral exists in certain areas or not. All of that sort of research is ultimately interesting, but I read in some writing book awhile back that some writers tend to use research as an excuse to avoid writing and that at some point you need to know that research for the book can't replace actually writing it. In your case, it may even be true that research is standing in the way of the writing because you feel you can't write until its accurate, but you don't want to do the research you feel is necessary so the writing stalls.

    Overall, I think the important takeaway is that research is really there to supplement, not replace or overwhelm, your story. There will probably always be that set of one or two people that read your book and then know more about a topic than you so write a smug review or scathing post about its inaccuracies, but that's life. At some point it's a balancing act to do enough research that it's believable without spending all your time on research that ultimately is only catering to a few select readers who might know enough to appreciate the correct detail. So, in short, write until you absolutely need to research and then research a very specific question to advance the writing. That's what has helped me get around this roadblock.
  8. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    I love research and it's one thing I know I have the knack for doing, so. I'm probably not the best person to ask "how to develop a knack". Sometimes, i just have this vibe that the source I'm looking at is going to be good--& I'm basing this decision off a book description, so a paragraph summary--or bad. I look for key words a lot of the time.

    What do I mean by key words? "Pulled from primary sources" in the case of a biography. "from archival sources of the period" in the case of a more general history. If I'm looking into science books, I look for people who are either scientists [Neil Degrasse Tyson, for example] or have a good reputation in the field [wiki/amazon reviews can quickly tell you this].

    I ALWAYS pay mind to the Kirkus reviews. If the major trade review journals pan a book I pass it right on by.

    If there are wobbly words that are meaningless I tend to skip that book as a research source. There are a lot materials out there that are less than rigorously researched. "Inspired by events", "imagined by the author", etc etc let you know that the research that has been done is perhaps being done to "prove" a point.

    Also, use your logic detector. If some claim seems too outlandish, don't believe it. Question the sources. [Shakespeare wrote Richard III as a hunchbacked degenerate because his patron, Elizabeth I, was part of the dynasty that overthrew Richard III. So maybe Shakespeare wasn't unbiased here?] Also, anything related to the Borgia family? QUESTION IT. They were so hated that their enemies got to write the histories and they're chock full of things that are, quite frankly, unbelievable.

    Let the weird research tangles take you on a journey, you never know what will be useful where. Case in point, I took out a bio on George the III to get a baseline understanding of him, and I'm stealing [uh, I mean borrowing] vast swathes of his family's personal history as a bit of drama for my novel. I went in thinking it wouldn't be terribly useful and here it is informing my starting point as well as some minor plot lines.

    If that's still too much: indexes. Use them. Find a particular small research question and look in the index for the key words used in that question. See how useful the source is on that point before using it for other queries. For internet stuff you kinda have to know how to ask google the right questions and which sources are going to be more/less biased in their info. [For informational purposes, the manufacturer of a thing has a vested interest in clearly explaining using their product. They also have a vested/biased interest in presenting their product as the only solution/best solution. If you want comparisons of products/uses you're best off finding alternative sources.]

    Bibliographic essays are a dying skill. You still see them in old school histories like David McCullough writes, but if you find one where the author goes "these books were really useful/interesting" read it!

    Researching is a skill. I honed it to a sharp point by working in multiple libraries, being on the debate team/arguing legal cases as an extracurricular in school. I had to dump sources that weren't any good within the first few pages and quickly move onto the next possibility.

    I'm currently in research heaven, and have 15 books on the same general era right now. I've got another 10-20 to look thru as I write. I just take it one book at a time. [And yes, I still find the dud book that sneaks through my "useful" and "rigorously researched" filters.]

    Last pro-tips: dump the [historical] research before you write. Basically ignore everything you just did, because the timeline will only constrain you. I do historical/scientific research to get a feel for "faking it". You do enough research into any topic and you can convince most people [who aren't experts] that you know exactly what you're talking about. Which is pretty much all you need to do to write.
    Russ likes this.
  9. kdl121

    kdl121 Dreamer

    I think my problem with research is that I think I can just rely on my imagination and make everything up. But when something interests me enough (biggest examples: names and mythologies), I do a ton of research. I also feel like I do research when I watch anime ... that's where I find a lot of my inspiration, I like to take bits and pieces from each one, a name or a symbol (I try not to take concepts, I don't want to copy a plot).
  10. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

    Stabbing in the gut is pretty brutal - I can't help but think of Jeyne at the Red Wedding; granted, her pregnancy made the whole thing much more sinister, but it's a nasty way to die regardless! Stabbing is also very intimate (it would imply she has the stones to kill up close).
    I also think a failed thrown knife attempt would bring realism to the scene. Combat is a lot messier than is often portrayed, and it may very well be the case that she is dangerous, but inexperienced.
  11. C. A. Stanley

    C. A. Stanley Minstrel

    You also never know when you'll stumble across something incredibly useful or inspiring, something you never set out to find.

    Or simply something that gets you thinking about other aspects of your world. I once did research into cous-cous, as this is a potential staple in one of my lands, and in the end I totally revised the agricultural practices of this culture - it seems logical, but it's something I hadn't considered at the time. A thirst for knowledge certainly helps... cous-cous is hardly an interesting subject of study lol
  12. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    I have a suspicion, but not sure if its true. But we are coming upon a time when most people alive have never lived without the internet, and I am not sure, but I think my kids have always been in a world with Google. Google makes it so I don't have to remember anything, as I can always go look it up again. So...I think we might be moving towards a world where people feel less need to know, more than knowing how to go look it up. My suspicion, therefore, is that skills, like researching, and really much of anything the equates to less than instant knowledge (instant gratification of knowledge), as becoming a burden that people are drifting further away from.

    I have never had issues with researching. If I want to know about throwing knives, the internet has plenty of stuff, both in writing and in video. So, if you want accuracy, just watch a little of it. Every throwing knife I have seen as a big fat end and a thin handle. If it hits point first, it can sink in. If someone is skilled with it, then I imagine they probably are a good judge of the distances they can throw at and have the knife hit point first with its expected rotation.

    However, I have seen plenty of movies where the knives have no rotation at all, and it does not really ruin the movie.

    I think the more important thing here is imagine. Cause, really, even though strange, strange things happen. And it could even happen that a woman who has never thrown a knife before can throw one and kill someone with it. Being comfortable writing what one can imagine can be true is not a bad quality to have. I think you will know when what is imagined may need more than just uneducated detail.

    For me, I think education comes first with the desire to know. Wanting to write a story with a lot of accurate detail creates a desire to know stuff. Stuff like, what kinds of plants have natural healing qualities? or how far could someone on foot travel in a day? or what types of sailing vessels did they actually have in the 900's? If its gonna be in my story, I want to know.

    I think that want comes first. All the rest, it will take care of itself, cause once I want, I wont stop till I find it. And yes, sometimes finding is just asking my friends on the internet and letting them give me the answer ;)

    But, I do wonder, if all of this starts with Too much Google? I think my kids, more so than I, have issues similar to the ones mentioned. They don't seem to be able to focus on things for very long. My son in fact, has trouble even sitting through a movie without getting bored and drifting away.
    Last edited: May 10, 2017
    C. A. Stanley likes this.

Share This Page