In my quest to make the leap from fan fiction to original fiction writing, I’ve been noting some lessons I have learned from writing fan fiction these last few years. You’ll find Lessons #1-4 via my archive.
So we’ve come to Lesson 5 in my short list of the good stuff I have learned from being a fan fiction writer.
#5: Research is King (of the TimeSuck)
You know how it is. You sit down to write a story about… I don’t know. Harry Potter in Space. But you’ve never written about space. Nor have you ever written about Harry Potter. Let’s skip the part where this probably isn’t going to be a good story and note the steps taken. You’ve already figured out what’s supposed to happen in the story, who your characters will be, and where your story takes place (in space, DUH).
The first thing you’ll need to know is what they call that thing that astronauts live in, and also how much oxygen is in there, and how big is one of those things, and how many people can you fit in a space ship, and how long would it take for a ship to travel from Hogwarts to Mars… and now it’s 5 hours later and you haven’t written a single word.
I’m BIG on research. HUGE on research. I want the details to be as exact as possible. In All I Wanna Do, my hero and heroine are adopted. I have no idea what that feels like. Cue research. I sent them to Orlando, South Carolina, Baltimore, New York, Tennessee, New Orleans, Phoenix and Los Angeles and GREECE. I have only ever been to New York (but I went AFTER I wrote the story) and Los Angeles. Cue research. My male MC is a musician. He gets a guitar for Christmas. NOT ONE CLUE ABOUT GUITARS. Cue research. My female MC works in Marketing, something I know little about. RESEARCH.
When I am in the throes of a story, the #1 thing that can distract me is research. I will type something, want to be sure about it, and look it up. I need to describe a hotel, a street corner, a house? Google what I imagine in my head, do an image search, and base my words off of that image. I did this a lot when I sent my characters to Greece. But I would find that, an hour later, I am still looking at pictures of Mykonos and Santorini and also do they speak english there and are there tours and what is the temperature in April and how does a person get from Point A to Point B and how long is the ferry ride and does that fit in my story?
Is research important? YES.
Can it suck your time something fierce? YES.
Is it a great mode of procrastination? YUP.
1. Write out my questions beforehand.
1a. Set aside specific time for research that is NOT my writing time. I know what’s coming ahead in each chapter and the details I am going to need to include. I set up some research time and go at it. GO HARD or GO HOME! And then once the majority of my questions are answered and I have my photos and websites bookmarked and information I need, I can start writing.
2. While writing, if something comes up… and it sounds hard to do and it IS... I skip it. I leave a note to myself to look it up at my next research session. I am an obsessive editor, so likely when I pass it again a day or so later, I will fill in the blanks. This gets easier as time goes on and I lose my ‘it needs to be perfect the first time I write it or it’s CRAP’‘ mentality.
3. Get a good gauge for what is too much information and what is not enough. When I read a book and my eye starts to wander at the 3/4ths of a page description of a garden, I become more attuned to that in my own writing. I have gone from long drawn out imagery of a hotel room to a scant sentence and a half. And a good tip I have learned is that the scenery isn’t really important unless it’s part of the action. The chair sitting cockeyed doesn’t matter, unless the chair is NEVER cockeyed or your MC trips over it on his way to X location. Using words, imagery, description, just to use them is filler, IMO.
Tighten, lighten, less is more.
How are your research skills? How do you manage your research time? Is it a suck or do you have it down pat? Share your tips in the comments!