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When The Research Is Right

I’m a pantser. Spend any amount of time around this blog and you’ll figure that out. I come up with a concept and I go. I do research, but that usually coincides with the first few pages of my novel and the overwhelming desire to just write.

The problem about research and being a pantser: I don’t know at the beginning what direction a story will take. I don’t know my characters well enough to know which area I really need to research. So premature research, or planning before writing, doesn’t really work for me.

I still do it, to get what I need to get started, but my heart isn’t it.

On the flip, when I’ve got a finished or half-finished draft, that’s when the research grabs my heart. By then I know my plot (or mostly know) and I know my characters. I’ve got this idea for something that I don’t have a ton of experience or knowledge on. I’ve already written parts of this into the novel. I’m at the point where I need the research to check what I’ve already done and gain knowledge for how the rest of the story should go.

This is when I head to the library and pick up a few books. And I devour these books. Two things happen here to make it all work. The first, and most important, is finding out that I’ve done certain things right on my own. There is nothing better than reading a research novel and relating to it because it meshes with the character. Sure, I’ll find ideas and concepts that I need to tweak and alter, but I’ll grow stronger in what I’ve already envisioned correctly.

The second is reading different pieces of information that shape the rest of the novel. That give me new ideas and new pieces to add into my character.

These two pieces make the research enjoyable. And since I already know what angles I need for the story, I can skip around, getting parts that I need and parts that simply help flesh out the character beyond the novel.

Case in point: I’m currently researching Bipolar disorder. I’m familiar with this as a family member had it, so I have some basic knowledge. I used that knowledge, and some light internet searching directed by friend with mental health knowledge, to start my character. But she was weak and I finally found some time and looked up what my library had as options.

I picked up three books. The first pulled me in but I stopped early. It was more about diagnosis and dealing with the aftermath, I needed the lead up. The second gave me what I needed: personal stories of what it’s really like.

I don’t have Bipolar disorder. I will never get it right from a firsthand perspective. But I want to be as respectful and truthful as possible. From here I’ll seek out a beta or two with Bipolar disorder, to let me know where I’m off and need to tweak the story.

I couldn’t have done this research before creating the story and developing my characters. I need the research, but it’s a chicken before the egg type of deal: my ideal situation is chicken half formed, then egg. Which sounds really, really messed up. And perhaps that’s me as a writer: messed up.


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