Goodreads Facebook Twitter RSS Feed

Let Your Research Come To You

Sunday, 15 August 2010

How much research do you do? It probably depends on what your write. If it's historical novels, you must research a lot. If it's present-day, slice-of-life stuff, you may do very little beyond some basic fact-checking. I heard an interview with Hanif Kureishi once in which he said he does no research at all - because living his life has been all the research he needs. I don't think there's a hard and fast rule. If you write speculative fiction, a lot of your "research" will be just making stuff up, exploring your own imagination.

But, whatever your approach, I think what you might call passive research is a vital part of the writing process. By that I mean, simply, letting your story, your plot, your characters racket around in your brain while you get on with your life. Because, I find, it's quite amazing how often ideas, plot-points, names and phrases are just delivered to you. Someone will say something - it could be as simple as an unusual word - and you immediately know that it's what you need, that it has to go into what you're working on. It could be something you read in another book, or a phrase glimpsed somewhere, or anything.

As a trivial example, I've just reached a point in my WIP where my protagonist is repairing a giant water-wheel with tar (it's a long story). Then the other day, as I walked down the street, I saw they were repairing the road surface and had a big, steaming vat of tarmac giving off that acrid, cloying smell. Excellent! I immediately had some good sensory description I could include in my current chapter.

It sometimes feels like these ideas have sought you out, as if the whole thing is meant, as if it's fate. Actually, I don't believe it is. You know how you learn a new word and then suddenly you seem to hear it everywhere? I think it's like that. You start to see patterns, draw associations because your mind is open to suggestion. Because our brains have evolved to see patterns even when they aren't there.

As writers we can make use of this. You're not just writing when you're actually writing. Each day you swim through a sea of ideas, impressions, situations, associations. Keep your ears and eyes open and let your research come to you.


Post a Comment

I'd love to know what you think.