On Research

So yesterday I put down the “fun” project I’d been working on for the last couple of weeks (it hit 19.3k before I stopped). It’s still fun, and it’s actually not a bad story at all, but I felt I was finally ready to get back to work on something serious.

After detoxing from the heart meds and giving my muse some room to play, I picked up a pencil, expecting to stare at a blank page for a while before opening up my old ideas file and skimming through to pick a project. Instead, I conceived a fully formed story idea, complete with hook and pitch-line, characters, talking-heads dialogue, and more.

I enlisted the help of a geology buff friend of mine (hi, Neko!) and picked a location. A real world location *gulp*. My new idea is firmly set in the real world, or an only slightly altered one.

The trouble with setting a book in the real world or even an alternate Earth is, you sort of have to know what you’re talking about. Particularly in a historical period or place that doesn’t match your own experience of the world, that means researching. My research list is quite literally longer than my arm. Two sheets of graph paper are covered with 1cm high letters in my careful handwriting listing all the things I need to know about.

I’ve never researched a book to this level. I’ve looked at things about horses and weapons and various technologies. I’ve researched a couple dozen conditions for other people’s books, too, but I’ve done lots of research in my time. From college papers to my Muse Medicine articles, and even as a nurse, I utilized research methodologies and tools to get the information I needed. I know how to research.

I even know the super secret trick of being a good author with a well-researched book. You want me to share it?


When I write a Muse Medicine piece, I generally collect at least four sources of information, and read at least 4-5 times the word count of information than what I end up writing. The piece I write and post is still many times longer than what an author needs to actually put in his or her story. Editing the information down to just the most important and/or interesting facts keeps the story moving and the tension high. Knowing way more than your readers do about the subject lets you pull this off with a deft hand and ensures that you’ll get it right.

One other thing – I do the same thing with research for a story that I do for academic learning: I try to apply the concept right away. I stop to think about the things that I’ve read or seen and figure out how they apply to me. Relating the dry facts back to my characters or plot or setting both helps me retain the information longer, and keep my eye on the prize – the story. Research for the sake of research doesn’t get books written, after all.

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