Sunday, May 8, 2011

Writing with Intellect, You Too Can Do It!

Recently, in Canada, we had a federal election, and I've heard so many uninformed opinions about government, and all things political. All of that spurred on my annoyance with ignorance, so I wanted to address the importance of knowledge. I think most of us value intellect, and having conversations with people who actually know what they're talking about. From my previous little rant, I'm sure you know that I value it. In writing, it is also key to know what you're talking about. That's were research comes in.

Research isn't just reading. Research is the search for knowledge, and that comes in many forms. The most reliable form of research would be going to the library, and getting a book on the desired topic. However that isn't the only way, as I'm sure you know. Other great resources are:

-The internet! It does provide some margin for error, but if you look at a few different sites and balance out the information you usually get the basic idea. Besides, your novel isn't a research paper, tiny details don't matter as much.

-People. Yes, those real living, breathing people that exist outside of the computer. Everybody has experiences that they can share with an aspiring author. This can be hard for writers that are shy, but I find it much easier to listen to someone tell me what an army ship looks like, than read about the precise measurements in a textbook. Talking with someone who has experience in the desire topic also helps a writer understand the essence, and feeling of something.

Now, I'm not going to go on about how to research things, because I'm sure you've all had your share of history papers, or other researching assignments. I will say that it's key to always be listening, and taking in information to be a good writer. Even if the information doesn't apply to the story, because who knows when knowing how the government works (or any other random fact!) will come in handy?

I've narrowed the categories of research down to three main ones; setting, jobs, and skills.

1. Setting. This is the most common research category, I would say. This is also the reason why most teens, who write fiction, write fantasy. In fantasy, the setting is something that the writer gets to make up, which eliminates that aspect of research. However, I digress. If you're going to write a book that takes place in NYC then you better know the streets, the shops, and everything about it. Although this can be researched, why not just write in a setting that you're familiar with? Anyways, good tools for researching settings are atlases, pictures, Google maps (especially the street view feature!), normal maps, movies/tv shows that take place in the setting, and other written descriptions of it.

2. Jobs. Sometimes you want to give your character a job you've never had before, and writing it requires research. You have to get to know the ins and outs of it (ex. what kind of hours it calls for, how much it pays, how many people do it ect.) Sometimes you can get away with not knowing a whole lot about a character's job if it doesn't play a huge part in the story. However, for those jobs that need to be researched there are some good ways to learn about them, such as, Career Cruising (see if your school has an account with them, I know my school does, and it's a really good resource), looking at career sites, talking to someone who does the particular career, going to the place of the career (ex. writing a grocer, go to a grocery store), watch documentries on the job, or if you're particularly dedicated, job shadowing.

3. Skills. Often, I want characters to have skills that I don't have. For example, the other day I was writing a scene where my MC is learning archery. I have no idea how to shoot an arrow, but I thrifted this little book called "Archery: Know the Game" that explained how to prepare for archery, and different types of arrows, ect. Unless your MC is a carbon copy of yourself they'll probably have interests that you don't share, and will require research. There are so many ways to learn about other skills, but these are the ones I came up with: read about them, talk to people who have the skills, watch movies/tv shows (be wary of this, because sometimes movies/tv shows embellish things), if possible, try to do the skill, or watch someone else do it.

In closing thoughts, it's easy to believe that only some genres require research, such as, historical fiction, but I'd argue that all genres require research. As you've seen there are different categories of research, and if you want to write a realistic, interesting story then you should be doing some research in at least one of the categories. A final cautionary remark, just because you know a lot about the topic doesn't mean you have to put it in your story. The readers don't want to feel like they're reading a textbook, so sometimes less is more. A few well placed details do much more then pages of boring details. Anyways, that's all I have to say on research, so go and write informed stories!


  1. Excellent advice! I tend to slack a bit on the research part....but I'm sure you know that! ;) X)


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