Research Part 2- Know What to Look For

Now that we have the tools, let's take a look at how much data to collect.

Sounds easy, but be specific, know exactly what you want to do, otherwise you're looking for a fact in a sea of world history.

Once, I wanted to write about farmers barricading the tracks in protest of low grain prices in 1917, in Southern Saskatchewan. I had no idea if this had ever happened. If it had, I needed facts. If it hadn't, I was free to create. I needed to know my boundaries, the walls around me. I didn't want to jump into this scene blind. Knowing the state of the farmers for that time would help. Were they frustrated? Did they have good crops that year? Were they expecting better prices? I had a list of questions I needed answers for.

Can I pop the hood?
I searched for weeks to find proof. Some questions had no answers, others had conflicting answers. hmmm... How did I know it was time to stop looking?

You ever heard of the golden rule to research? Yeah, me neither, but at a workshop, the writer in charge told me there was one, and it was her show, so I let it go. Besides, it's a decent rule, that I have fun breaking.
Her rule was:
That's right boys and girls, prove each fact you use three times.
"Not for fiction?" I said in disbelief.
"Well," she was so smug, ready for my innocence. "When your editor tells you not to call it a chop pail, but a plain old bucket, will you bend?"
Oh. She was right, of course, I'd need facts in hand if I was to argue with anyone that powerful.

Prove it three times, from at least two of these sources;
The Internet
Confirmed by a specialist
Hands on experience
Keep track of each in case someone comes knocking.
Now this is good advice, especially if you write non-fiction. Get it right, keep it straight. Check.

Now for fiction, I do bend her rule. Sometimes three times is enough, too much, not nearly enough. Sometimes, we just need an idea about what people are thinking, how they dressed, we don't need all these extra details. Sometimes we do have to talk to specialists, crawl in tunnels... sometimes we don't. That's why knowing WHAT you want and WHY you need it is so important. You'll know the minute you've found it, your scene will come to life.

ok, so I did draw the line here.
I happen to seriously like
my washing machine.

My rule is to gather enough facts to;
1. Create a visual
2. Support the scene (make it believable)
3. Juice up the imagination (to fill in for the missing facts)

I'll go into these points in other posts, for now, let's just collect enough facts.

1. Know what you want and why you need it.
2. Get it in enough detail so you can get creative with it.
3. Know your limits, your boundaries so you can feel free to create "real" scenes.
4. Be prepared to prove it. 


Vicki Tremper said...

Great post, Tanya, thanks so much! I am a classic example of someone who keeps on researching to procrastinate beginning to write.


Richard said...

I'm enjoying this topic. And I really like it that you're adding pictures to your blog. I'm going to be doing more of that to mine; at least, I plan to.

Verifying something three times seems to be a good rule. I tend to go with the first thing I find, especially if it has a strong bibliography and notes. But it's probably a good idea to go further and look at some of those references as well.

I also like your three rules. Sticking to those will help make our writing stronger for sure.

Tanya Reimer said...

Thanks Richard, the photos are all mine, taken during my hands on research. I have so many, I use them for inspiration!!

Witless Exposition said...

Great guidance for research! I think we forget how much we actually need to double check our facts. And hands on is always so much better!

Misha said...

Great tips! I sometimes feel out of depth, because I have to research EVERYTHING for my one book. At least, it feels like that.


Richard said...

You appear to be a good photographer. Photography is one of my hobies. Someday I'm going to get myself a good digital camera.

E.C. Smith said...

Excellent sum up. I need to tape those 4 points up somewhere. Otherwise, I'll never remember them!

Donna Hole said...

I usually go by the 3 times rule myself. But only if what I'm looking for is a vague idea, and the found info looks as shakey my own concept.

When I google a search topic, and find pretty much nothing in about an hour's worth of modifying terms, I'm satisfied I can be creative.

There's a lot of times I put something vague in, and find a whole list of incredible articles and resources. I'll explore the links, and when I'm finding most of the research coming up with the same basic info, its good enough for me.

Of course, that's not to say I don't get lost in the research for hours and hours. I love input; I have a head for trivia. Links are one of my favorite obsessions.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

This is a great post on research, which is something I love to do. Maybe a little too much--like when I'm working on my first draft. ;)

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

Hi, Tanya! Just discovered your blog today. Very interesting post. I love doing research almost as much as I enjoy writing. "Be prepared to prove it." I LOVE and live by this :D Great blog.


Tanya Reimer said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. I agree with everyone, research is so important, yet fun!