Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Researching as a Writer

One of my dangerously addictive joys during the day, when I have the time, is engaging with fellow writers on Twitter. K.M. Weiland is always a fun one. She often tweets writing questions. I don’t know if most people actually answer them, but when I can, I enjoy doing so. Her question on Tuesday was, “How much time would you estimate you’ve spent on research for your WIP?” (work in progress) When Amy Raby also blogged about research this week, I knew I had to put down the thoughts churning in my head on the subject.

One point Amy makes is that it’s difficult to research esoteric subjects. I couldn’t agree more, but I think the difficulty goes beyond that. The sort of details a writer wants to give a story living, breathing believability are hard to find in books. We don’t just want to know that a castle’s sally ports were small, so one had to duck going in and out of them (a fact I learned from John Wilhite, someone who has actually seen them, not a book), but we yearn to know how often people hit their heads on those ports. We want to know how it smelled, what the dirt under your fingernails felt like, how the water or wine tasted, and all those rich sensory details that are difficult to extrapolate from academic books.

And sometimes, much as we try, we have little clue where to find information. Amy mentioned an interest in elephant domestication. Like her, I might have gone looking for such information in animal books, but domestication is also a subject in archaeology. I would never have known that without happening to know several archaeology students.

Lastly, the time for research can turn into weeks, depending on how accurate an author wishes to be. As a rough estimate, I told K.M. Weiland that I’d spent 40 hours researching my current WIP. Honestly, though, that will certainly turn into much more. For an initial draft, I do basic research, enough to have a feel for my setting. Upon editing, I often have to do more to flesh out details and clarify elements of the story. Like Weiland, though, if I spend too much time researching, my fingers itch to write. Much as I love learning new things, at heart, I am a storyteller first.

How do you research? Do you enjoy it?


  1. I'm glad you're enjoying the #WQOTD! I always have fun seeing what people's answers are. As for research, I think there comes a point when (after we've put in our time dutifully researching available resources), we just have to wing it with our best guesses.

  2. I think I could give up writing for research, but I probably won't any time soon. :)