Research, and How to Handle It

After many a long hour, I’ve finished doing research for my online novel.  Was it enjoyable?  I don’t know.  Is it enjoyable to get pounded in the ass by Godzilla?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s an entirely hellish experience.  You learn a lot of interesting stuff when you research, and sometimes that research will take you down different paths that you didn’t expect when you got started.

The biggest problem with research – the part that makes it suck for me, at least – is the danger of getting distracted.  Say you’re starting off researching about post-World War II Japan for a novel, maybe even Hiroshima immediately after the atomic bombing.  Granted, you’ll want to learn a thing or two about the Manhattan Project.  What’s that?  Stalin had spies at Los Alamos?  Well, now you want to know more about Soviet espionage, which leads to the tense relationship of the allies.  Now you got Soviet spies in America.  Oh, my nuggets!  One of them has run into Marilyn Monroe as she worked in a factory for unmanned artillery targets (true story).  Suddenly, you’re off into Marilyn Monroe territory.  Where did she grow up?  Was she really either a quiet bookworm or a plucky adventurist?  Did she really screw around or are haters gonna hate?

All of these are interesting questions.  None of them have fuck-all to do with the original premise of post-war Japan.  I like to think of writing a story as analogous to cooking.  Yes, it’s because I’m eating right now.  A guy’s gotta eat.

What’s the first thing you do when you cook?  You get your ingredients, specifically the ingredients you need.  If I’m making an omelet, I’ll need eggs.  I’ll need cheese, butter, olive oil.  I like me some salt and pepper too.  Chocolate chips?  Well, I like chocolate, but I sure as hell won’t put it in my omelet.  Likewise, some topics might be cool, but they ultimately will have nothing to do with your story.

And yes, sometimes you will have to go back and do additional research.  Perhaps you’ll need to look up a little factoid here and there, details to help spice up your prose.  But at the start, just focus on what you know you’re going to need, the broad strokes as it were.

Let me use my own online novel project as an example.  Being an alien invasion story, I know I’m going to have to describe what the aliens look like.  Well, how any creature looks is governed by their native environment.  That means I’d have to flesh out their home planet.  But we’re not going to read about their home planet.  It’s a detail that doesn’t weigh in very importantly.  If they’re coming to Earth, it means it’s a planet that they value, a place they could live on.  So, it’s sufficient enough to say that their world is Earth-like.  From there, I went right into biology research, because our planet is teeming with animals that really might as well belong in a sci-fi novel.

See what I’ve done?  I’ve save myself a whole lot of time and trouble by cutting out all that planet-building nonsense.  If I hadn’t done that, I’d eventually become as batshit crazy as – oh, I dunno – Giorgio Tsoukalos!

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