Before the Draft: Research

It’s always interesting to me to read about other writers’ processes for getting ready to draft. Ever since I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2011, I’m firmly in the fast draft camp. I don’t necessarily finish a draft in a month, but I have set word goals every day, and I don’t revise anything until I’ve typed “The End.” In order to do that, I must have everything I need all lined up before I start drafting. Since I’m in that stage now, I’m going to do a “Before the Draft” series, starting with how I research.

Ah, research. Some people might find it tedious, but I’m fascinated by the things I learn. I start out with an idea, but I usually don’t know how to execute it until I start researching. And the research isn’t always the same. How much and what kind of research depends on the story. I’ll break it down by the novels I’ve completed and then list what I’ve done so far/plan to do for my work-in-progress.

THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES (A boy living in an underground city escapes through caves)

Meramec Caverns

Meramec Caverns

  • Trade magazines – I scoured caving magazines for descriptions of various expeditions to make sure I had the terminology correct, as well as descriptions.
  • YouTube – I viewed countless caving videos to get a feel for what cavers experienced and also to see it.
  • Meramec Caverns – I dragged my family to Meramec Caverns for a first-hand look at some Missouri caves, since the story is set in my home state.
  • Middle grade novels – Since this was my first foray into writing MG, I read numerous books in the category, focusing on boy main characters to gain a sense of the voice.

DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN (A prodigy violinist is sucked into the music)

  • Non-fiction books on prodigies/renowned violinists – Even though I’ve played the violin for 25 years, I was never a prodigy. I didn’t know how a prodigy would feel, what others would expect of her, etc. I needed these resources to ground me in what a prodigy’s life would be like.
  • Fiction – I read a few books featuring prodigies for the same reason as above.
  • Internet searches – The best search I did when researching DUET was on the greatest violinists of all time. It led me to the story of Niccolo Paganini, rumored to have made a deal with the devil to play so well. That story became the basis for my major plot point.
  • YouTube – I just about memorized videos of the musical pieces I included so that I could describe each swell and accent of the music.

    Bates Motel

    The Bates Motel at Universal Studios

  • Universal Studios – Ok, so this wasn’t originally research, but after we went there, I knew it was a perfect fit for Miranda’s trip into the “Psycho” theme. I like to keep trip journals of vacations in case I decide to use a location in a future book. I write down my impressions, descriptions, interesting facts I learn. I don’t always make this happen when the kids are along, but it’s come in useful more than once.
  • Young adult novels – When I decided to age DUET up to YA, I read a number of YA books to immerse myself in the different issues and voice nuances.

THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT (Twin girls–one of them training to be a black belt–separated at birth by alien abduction)

  • Personal interview – I grew up with a mom and brother who did Tae Kwon Do, plus my son has started, so I know a bit about martial arts. I’ve watched classes countless times, but I still needed a personal interview to describe a black belt test. Lucky for me, my mom is a fourth-degree black belt, so I had the perfect source handy.
  • Non-fiction books – I used the text by the founder of Tae Kwon Do, complete with form descriptions and photos of positions.
  • Science fiction novels – I read a number of sci-fi books at all age levels for ideas about the other planet and how things might work between the two worlds.
  • Internet searches – I mainly used the internet for research on twins, and something I came across on a twin site gave me the idea for the title.

Current WIP (secret for now)

  • Trade magazines – Once again I’ve referenced trade magazines, in this case to get a better feel for the setting and what happens there.
  • Promotional videos – I’ve scoured the internet for videos promoting the type of organization my character will get involved in.
  • Documentary – I’ve watched a documentary, again to get a feel for the setting and what might happen there.
  • Existing stories – I’ve read a few novels and plan to study a couple of movies with similar settings to see what’s already been done.
  • Play – I went to see a play that will have a strong influence on the novel.

I’m not finished researching the WIP. I’m sure I’ll end up incorporating some of the other tactics I have in the past. How do you research? Do you tap into any other resources I didn’t mention?

All Before the Draft posts:


Responses to “Before the Draft: Research”

  1. Paula Williams

    Your cave pic got my attention because I’d gone to Carlsbad Caverns to do research for my own book. And I’ve discovered a myriad YouTube documentaries and tourist vids from which to reap info about Teotihuacan. I love blogging about my writing journey and research for it as well.

  2. Linda Adams

    I’ll start with the fact that I don’t enjoy research — I enjoy what I find, but not the process of doing it. Yet, I’m bad enough with details that I have to do it before I write a story so I have them or they won’t get it.

    My story is an alternate world of Hawaii, so I used tour books for the setting. I hit the names of plants and trees, sealife, and that kind of thing. I just do a list of the names of what would instantly say “This setting.” I also used them to get the basic history and timeline.

    I checked out two memoirs, which gave me details about the houses that people would live in. I also stumbled across a real estate show about moving to Hawaii and picked up on a few more. I read a book on moving to Hawaii (through library loan) and checked out a few online newspapers for the business culture and fashion. Two university books gave the government structure in the past, and eventually, I used a Google book for a very old book that discussed the ethnic features of Hawaiians.

    For locations, I look at photos and videos to help me get a better picture of the place. I also identified the date the scenes happen on and looked up the weather, moonset, and tidal conditions. This is not to be 100% accurate or for the nitpickers — in fact, I added rain to one day. Because I am so poor with details, it’s simply to make sure i pay attention to the environment.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Tour books are a great idea! And I’m actually reading a memoir at the moment. I didn’t realize it was a memoir until I started it. I wasn’t sure about that, but I’m really enjoying it so far. I may have to pick up some more!

      Although, it sure would be nice to make a research trip to Hawaii :).


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