Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Dreaded R-Word...

...yeah, you know it...if you know me at all, and you do. You totally do.

The Dreaded R-word = Research.

Kat asked these questions (She must hate me or something.): How do you do research for your settings, your story and your characters' quirks? What interesting tidbits about yourself and the world you live in have you learned along the way? (Michelle answered them before me, and Annie will talk it out tomorrow.)

Oh crap. My secret is out. I, uh, don’t "do" research, just like I don't "do" running and stuff like that. Well, if big dogs are involved, I can move pretty fast. Otherwise? No running.

I actually dislike researching so much I break out in hives if I have to do it. So you wanna know how I research for my settings and story and quirks? *whispers* I make them up. I might pick a place (the setting) that could be anywhere. Then I don’t have to know street names and stuff. I’m writing a novel right now that requires the characters to go to the beach. So I know it’s in California. But I don't know what city. I don't care what city. The setting is not that integral that I need to know what city. Or the name of the high school. And if I did, I'd simply make them up.

I did need the name of a beach. So I asked my friend Christine for sweet beach in SoCal. Research, over and out.

Seriously, the book I’m querying right now? Dystopian. Setting = made up (Well, okay, I know where it takes place in the US. But the "country" is made up. I do have to know the terrain and stuff, but I already did. No research required). Research = very little.

Story = made up. Research = very little.

Character quirks = made up. Research = very little.

My stories require very little research because I don’t write what I don’t know. For example, I have to know how long a sunburn takes to heal, but that can come from my real life knowledge. If there is something I don't know, like what symptoms someone would have coming off inhalants, I just ask someone smarter than me. (Thanks Carolyn!) Another reason I think I can get away with minimal research is because I write speculative fiction. You know, with magic and powers and made up places. Thus...I can make stuff up!

Most of the research I do for characterization comes from watching people. I carry a 6 x 9-inch notebook in my purse. When I see some guy at the post office wearing a cool hat, I write it down. I jot down notes about people I know. Like, my BIL talks in his sleep. A lot. So I put that in a novel. I've gushed over people's names in the grocery store and stuff. It's a bit embarrassing, but Walter-the-checkout-guy liked it. I know he did.

What have I learned about myself? That I’m lazy? Ha ha!

But seriously, I think there's something to be said for writing what you know. Sure, I could research 17th Century England (if I wanted to die) and then I would "know" about 17th Century England. I just choose not to, cuz I am not a fan of the R-word.

What about you? Firmly camped in Research Central? Love the stuff? Hate it? How do you do research for your settings, your story and your characters' quirks? What interesting tidbits about yourself and the world you live in have you learned along the way?

Am I really lazy? Wait. Don't answer that. kenyit


christinefonseca said...

I knew I would love your post on this topic. And last night, after doing a little MORE research on 16th century Europe I was thinking "why am I writing this section. I should just be like Kate and Elana and say forget it or make it up." Of course then Michelle would be after me...Ugghh. Research - I don't hate it, but I don't love doing as much of it as I have of late@!

Sandra said...

I thought the dreaded R-word was Rejection. Or is it Revision? ;)

Even if you're writing SF and "making everything up," I personally think research enhances SF. Sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction. For instance, did you know some spidersilk is strong enough to stop a bullet?

I do like the way you research characters. I need to do more of that.

TereLiz said...

Maybe I'm the lazy one. I have to research to get my good ideas. ;)

I recently stumbled upon a webpage that detailed certain traditions and attitudes of the Romani people toward death.
This gave me the seeds of a story, but I had to do more research to find out exactly what that story was. Now I get to do the fun research that adds color to the world. Turn of the century Paris, here I come!
My story always seems the most alive to me when I've immersed myself in researching a particular time period or culture, but I am also a trained researcher and get off on finding real life facts/situations/events and putting them in a story. Character quirks come after I've figured out the plot and the characters' motivation.


ps, my verification word is tereati. I'm going to take that as a sign of good things to come.

Michelle McLean said...

even loving research as much as I do, even I make stuff up sometimes. Especially settings. They are sometimes based on real places, but I always make up the name of the city and the descriptions are usually a conglomerate of a bunch of cities.

My only requirement for not making stuff up is if it's something real that someone could call me on. Like mentioning a specific car and not getting it right (I almost gave a character a 4 door Mustang, which, I found out after a little research, doesn't exist....well, they made one or two a long time ago, but you get the point). :D

WindyA said...

I'm a big fan of the "loosely based on a something/someplace/someone I know, but not enough for me to have to research" camp. I'm not a big fan of it either. The most research I've done recently? Uh, a couple characters are looking at Ivy League schools on the east coast and Cornell is in Ithaca, NY and Princeton is in (big surprise) Princeton, NJ. Ah, research over.

Even in the contemporary fic I write, (no magic, etc) there's not a whole lot of research required, to quote that oft-used phrase: I write what I know. I may loosely base a setting on where I live or have been, but names change, etc. So, yeah. I'm not a fan of research either.

Tess said...

I like research kinda like you like writing queries.

It's fun.

And, I'm not nearly smart enough to get by without doing at least a bit of background homework. I'd get caught every time.

HEY! I just realized, you are like that really smart roomate from college who never studied and always aced the test. Man.

ElanaJ said...

Christine - you don't want to be like me! Your book will probably actually stand as is. Yeah, I had to research if Happy Birthday was used in 1920 once. You know what I did? I simply cut it from the MS. Lay-zee.

Sandra - it's definitely both Rejection and Revision! Doh! Why didn't I think of that??

TereLiz - I am in awe of you. You are my new research hero.

Michelle - yeah, I hear ya. That's why I make sure my betas are also smarter than me. *wink, wink*

Windy - that's my kind of research.

Tess - okay, you got me there. I like writing queries, you like researching. We should, like, split a brain or something and be a whole person. Ha ha! And I did ace some tests in college. But I studied &3%@U!# hard. Really, I did. :-)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Ditto pretty much what WindyA said. My stuff is straight out of real life with a few twists and name changes. Researching a different era's customs and such? Eww, no thanks. But I do love my faithful boyfriend -- Mr. Google -- he always gives me what I need in the area of "research." I do online surfing to add cool factoids and real touches to scenes and bygone days (but not too bygone). Hope that made sense. Seriously low on java quotient.

jessjordan said...

Ugh ... the "R" word. Hate it. Don't do it.

Okay, that's not true. It's just that when I do start to research, I end up waist-deep in wikipedia articles and other random things I find on google, and each of those articles links to a NEW article, and there I am, 7 hours later, more confused than ever and with nothing to show for it. (except about 2 pages of randomly cut-and-pasted info)

When I have a question, I ask the hubby. It's always something random, and it seems to crack him up. Yesterday it was, "Hey, what do you call ice cream machines other than ice cream machines? You know, like, do the old-timey ones have a cooler name?"

Answer: blank stare, followed by, "Uh ... a bucket and a freezer?"

Me: "No ... that won't work."

Him: "Maybe you should"--pause for gasp and shudder--"look it up."

And I'm back at square one. Grrrr ...

I'm with you on setting. Right now, my people are somewhere near marine life and woods. That's all I've got. I see a smallish town about 3 hours outside of a big city. I made up the name. No further info yet. Maybe this is b/c I don't like books overloaded with setting descriptions, or maybe I'm just .... wait for it ...

Lazy. :)

Sara Tribble said...

Oh goodness yes...research. That's why I stick with genres I'm in control in lol! Although I must say my current time traveling has dabbled my mind a bit, so I've lingered on the internet but it doesn't get too scientific on me which is a plus.

As for queries I research just about anywhere I can for those! Everyone has a different formula, it's not the formula I need it's examples. Kristen Nelson does a nince job showing them with popular books. I do think I need to look over some more though or at least my synopsis for a new view point!

If you and Tess combine brains I will have to steal it! lol!

Icy Roses said...

My research consists of Wikipedia and Google Images, sometimes my Greek myth book to make sure gods, monsters, stories are in line with the original mythology. I am so with you on this. This is why I chose to write fantasy, instead of say...historical fiction. Also, "research" usually involves the Internet, and so is more like "procrastination."

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

It's really nice to hear someone actually admit that they do no research. Thanks, it makes me feel better about my lack of it, except I had to do a lot of forensic and old bone research and I'm not completely sure it's 100%. But it's close.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love doing research (thank goodness for the internet), but I write YA paranormal so the need isn't as great as for other genres. Everything Icy Roses said (including the procrastination) applies to me, except my thing is Norse mythology. ;)

Danyelle said...

If it makes you feel better, Elana, you're method of research looks almost identical to mine.

*hopes that is a reassuring thought* O:)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Speaking of lazy... um, for my blog chain posting can I just write "ditto" and then link to your post?

Candace said...

is the dreaded R-word anything like the dreaded C-word.....*camp*....there I wrote it- I know this is your writerly blog so hopefully you will excuse my non-writerly comment, but I wanted to let you know I really will go if you need me and I will be on my best behavior too-I promise-you have it in writing here (okay well typing)....disregard all my lame writing and see me as a willing and mostly able volunteer to help is need be

ElanaJ said...

Dude, Danyelle! YOU are my new research hero!

Kate, link away baby!

Candace! Ha ha! The dirty C-word will be blogged about AFTER camp! LOL. Yeah, we worked it out so someone else can sleep over on Thursday night. Whew. But it would've been wicked fun with me and you there...just sayin'. ;)

Kat Harris said...

I don't hate you. Really, I don't.

And I know from past posts that you've done that you do a lot of people watching, and you write down what you observe. That is an interesting form of research, and I learned a lot from that.

Great post!

Eric said...

Elana, if you've read any of my previous posts on this subject, you know I am right there with ya. I hate research. I feel completely paralyzed by it. I'm so worried that I'll get it wrong, and yet I want my readers to feel like they're actually there, so I have to do research. Plus magic-filled landscapes are not something I've really attempted much. So you're probably one up on me. You have some good ideas though, like carrying a notebook around with me. I should do that. Note to self - do what Elana does.

Carolyn Kaufman said...

Okay, that's facinating, that you're actually CONSTANTLY looking for ideas and stuff. The whole people-watching thing. Soooo fascinating. (And LOL on the inhalants. ;-)

Annie Louden said...

I completely agree with what JessJordan said that I get lost in Wikipedia articles and links, and then I really don't know what I'm writing about anymore.

You made me laugh when you said:
Sure, I could research 17th Century England (if I wanted to die)

My husband asked what was so funny.

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