Saturday, April 20, 2013


Have you had to do research for something you're writing? I mean, aside from school or some sort of work related task? How did you go about it? Where did you draw your information? How did you cite it? Did you create a bibliography, using parenthetical notation or some other methodology? Did you even credit to your sources?

I have an ongoing research project for a trilogy I'm working on. I've used Wikipedia, but mainly as a source for articles, journals and books to reference. I've used Google-Maps to print large scale and detailed closeups of the area where a significant portion of the story occurs. I've also downloaded hundreds of pictures of the terrain, flora, fauna and architecture so I can accurately describe the region.

I used the local library to find countless reference books and more journal articles, copying, transcribing and committing to memory the parts I needed. And I have sorely abused my husbands trust in our financial management by ordering book after book after book from Amazon.

And here's what I learned: research can do funny things to the book you think you're writing. I started off with a very clear vision in my head, but the more I researched and made notes, the more the story grew and expanded. The more I thought I cleared plot lines, the more I realized I had to go back and perform MORE research.

Things like not being able to accurately depict how a soldier would act in a specific situation when it's abundantly clear how much society has changed in the past hundred years. It's impossible for someone from our generation to really understand the psyche of a soldier from World War I or even World War II. We are a different country, a different people, a different world.

I didn't realize this until I read the following:

"The hard truth was that human beings had never been slaughtered in such numbers or so rapidly as in this hideous war. Nor with less to show for it. The machine gun, automatic rifles, massed artillery, poison gas, flamethrowers, the airplane, and the tank made a mockery of old-style textbook stratagems and old-style battlefield heroics." 
(McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992).

The reading of this one paragraph changed my outlook on the entire book and sent me digging for my reference material. Because I got IT.  That mysterious IT that makes us want to write something meaningful, something prosaic and greater than ourselves. The IT that makes us want to dig deeper, work harder, longer, more fervently than we have before. IT. The argument. The SOURCE of our inspiration.

I finally realized, research has a means beyond our immediate goals. It transcends the basic need to flush out dialogue, scenery, time, place, etc. It becomes more than the background - it becomes the heart, soul and body of many of our stories. Not all, certainly. Not every story. But for me, it became so much more than my original concept. So much more than I had dreamed of. It became it's own story, and I'm simply the device transcribing it for the masses.

Research. It does some interesting things to your head - and your plot line!

Have a great weekend!

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