Monday, October 17, 2011

3 Tips to Put the Joy into Research

Research can be a drag or a joy. It becomes a drag, an exercise in drudgery, if you do all your research sitting down — on the Internet or in libraries. You have to come up for air and get off your duff now and then, which brings me to my first tip.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask . . .

When I first started writing I never dared bother an expert with my dumb little questions. How wrong I was. Experts love to talk about their work. Don’t you like to talk about mysteries, writing, and how you got published? If a fledgling writer comes up to you—all starry-eyed and asks, “How did you become a writer?” do you snap, “None of your business. Leave me alone.” Of course not. You wax eloquently about how you became a writer and bathe happily in her admiration and awe. Policemen, geologists, chemists, FBI agents, doctors, and fire-fighters are no different. As long as you are polite, listen intently, and ask intelligent questions, you will often find you are the one who has to end the interview.

2. Head for the Children’s Library

Have you ever been faced with the need to know how a rifle works? Or which mushrooms are poisonous? Or the intricacies of a pacemaker? Don’t reach for those heavy tomes with the small print and few illustrations. You won’t understand them and you’ll waste a lot of time trying to. Children’s non-fiction authors are experts
at explaining things clearly, briefly, and accurately with lots of pictures and simple diagrams – that even a child can understand. Give them a try.

3. Don’t just look and listen; touch, smell and taste, too.

We have five senses, but when we write we tend to rely on only two – sight and hearing. The other three are equally important, but often get neglected. The feel of the nape of a baby’s neck, rough bark, or a silk stocking (with a leg in it?) The smell of a school lunchroom – who can forget it? The odor of a badly run nursing home. Or the scent of a crushed mint leaf. The taste of that first cup of coffee. Ice cream on a hot day. Or milk that’s turned sour overnight. Such details can reveal character, enhance settings, even further a plot.

Research can be a drag or a joy. Maybe these tips will help it be the latter.

Robin Hathaway

1 comment:

  1. Children's library....brilliant! Unless your character is supposed to be an expert on something that's as deep as you need to go on many subjects. Good tip!