Learning as You Go

Learning as You Go

Traci Kenworth

 

So are you one of those authors that wade deeply into research before they write a single word? Or do you do enough research to get you by and then continue to do so as you go? I’m one of the latter. I can hear the gasps out there. Lol. I believe firmly in research but sometimes you got to get the words down and then go back for further investigation. This isn’t to suggest that you shirk your responsibility to study things. Face it, readers are much more savvy these days. They know things you might not think.

Translations. That a certain restaurant/place was written wrong. Or an entire tribe/nation’s background is different from what the book proposes. I’m probably from the fool me generation in, as in I trust the author not to make these mistakes, but it happens. I’m not here to say it’s okay to dupe your reader, in fact, most of the time they find out the truth in some way and then it could be hard to sustain a story’s believability from the same author again. No, I’m about to tell how I do my own research into things.

First, of course, comes setting. Unless your creating your own world (and even then you need to know the rules of it), you must know your background. I personally, like to make up towns/cities/places etc. I enjoy the challenge. Of course, I usually base it to some degree on somewhere I’ve been or would like to go. I build the houses, neighborhoods, people, pets, and so on as needed in my mind. Sometimes from putting photos together to get the type of building I want. Other times from a description someone gives me as they talk about the state in question. Ideas abound about us, but we have to ground them in fact.

So after I choose my residence, I study my characters. What sort would live there? What classes? What nationality? I love to reflect on how America’s a melting pot, thus I try and include all races, poor and rich, young and old. I even research what kind of pets they would have. It’s important to get the right fit for your character. I.E. A little old lady wouldn’t normally go for an active, horse-of-a-dog. Spend some time getting the feel of your families. Their needs, their wants, their handicaps. It will make for a solider base to them.

Again, however, you can delve into who they are as you go along. For instance, right now, one of my characters belongs to a cult, though she’s not aware of such due to their brainwashing methods. Now, when I began writing, I knew my character but I didn’t know about groups like these. Sure, I’ve heard, read, and watched TV about them, but I needed to go deeper into this to pull the character off. She’s complicated and the more I write her, the more research I do into who she is, what she wants, and the triggers that manipulate her. It’s a scary world to look into, but it has to be done if she’s to remain true to what she represents.

My point is, you don’t always know every little detail, every little twist that you’re going to take along the way in a story. Therefore it’s okay to start writing the first draft and then go back and explore what you need. If I spent six months pouring through books before I wrote the title of my manuscript, it would be in trouble. You need to stretch your wings, and as you’re doing so, read into the area in question, highlight ideas you’d like to go through further. Just have everything gelled together before you send the book off. Check. Check. Check your facts. Even writing in the same region as I do, there is often something I need to look up. I don’t hesitate to do so, it could save me pie in the face in the end.

 

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10 thoughts on “Learning as You Go

  1. I write first and then strengthen my concepts or add to them as my research deepens. 🙂 If I’m writing and I know I don’t know enough about something, I mark it right in there with ****RESEARCH**** and then I know what I need to really target my focus on with research. 🙂

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    1. I think, too, if you bog yourself down in too much info to begin with, you create more backstory that has to be trimmed when you revise. It’s good to have a direction, but sometimes you just have to drive up that hill to see what’s ahead, knowing you’ll use the map eventually.

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  2. This is something I’m so nervous about, getting facts wrong. I have a historical coming out and I know I did my best to convey everything correctly…but mistakes happen. Eeek! I research as the need arises too.

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  3. I teach grade 6 and teaching writing is my favourite!!!!! When preparing to write a particular format, we read and deconstruct that format before we start writing in that format. We’re actually at the end of the fantasy writing unit. This year I decided to do something I’ve never done before. After all of the mini lessons needed to understand what goes into story writing… I had students go ahead and draft their story. I used to go through a series of pre-writing organizers and outlines. I have liked this change. I read the drafts, took notes on how to bump up their writing and now I’ve been conferencing with each student and giving them a story map to redevelop some of their ideas. They seem to like this process and I think it has been more effective. So, write first and polish-up later. I love reading what REAL writers do!!

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    1. Thanks, Heidi!! It’s awesome to hear of your process as well. I think we all approach writing in different ways, but maybe just a sliver of what someone else is doing fits into our process and makes it better. That’s what counts.

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  4. I love to do research, but I love writing even more. So I’m the same. However, usually I’m doing research for one novel while editing another, so there are no long gaps of non-writing. I couldn’t survive those. 🙂

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  5. I can’t stand the long gaps either, Stina. I usually take a 6 week break from writing between books, but even then, I’m writing blogs, sometimes short stories etc. And most important of all, I usually start my character charts, outline etc. for the next book during this time and do some research then, enough to get me started.

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