The Writing Process, part 2: Research

Each writer will have a different take on research.  A rare few will throw it to the wind.  Those of us who consider research an important if not critical element in the process of completing a manuscript fall into two camps.  One camp prefers to write the manuscript from start to finish and then research the details after the fact.  The other camp performs research throughout the process.  I fall into the second camp; I research throughout the process, from start to finish.

For example, I needed to understand the physical layout of Auschwitz before I wrote about it in The Hamsa, not afterwards.  What did it look like?, Where is it located?, etc.  I needed to understand the reconstruction era in the South before I wrote about it in Tobit and the Hoodoo Man; I didn’t want to fill in the blanks when the story was finished.

Ten years ago when I penned The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas, I had stacks of books within arm’s reach to support what I was writing, and I made frequent trips to the library.  The Internet supplemented those books.  Today, the Internet is my primary research tool.  ‘Bookmarks’ and ‘favorite places’ folders now replace the bookshelves that once surrounded my desk. For each historical novel, I maintain a minimum of three ‘favorite’ folders where I store the websites I am using:  people, culture and geography.  In turn, those folders may have sub –folders.  This system allows me quick and ready reference as I write my story.

I collect folders of pictures, drawings and photos to help me understand the ‘lay of the land’ as it were, and I refer to them frequently.  I wallpapered my office with pictures of ancient Olympia as I wrote The Olympian.

I most frequently start my research queries with Wikipedia, but I ALWAYS confirm what I find on Wikipedia from other independent sites.  Google never fails me, and I have yet to be burned by Wikipedia so I consider it a reliable source.  Wikipedia has another terrific service that enables a researcher to ‘create a book’ from the pages he uses on Wikipedia.  When my manuscript is finished and the book published, I always return to Wikipedia and order the book I created through research.  The Hamsa research book from Pedia Press was over 1,000 pages and required two volumes.  I recall the price at approximately $50.

Because I lack the financial resources to travel, I rely on Google Earth.  It continues to improve.  As I reflect on my books, each involves a journey.  While the Olympian took place in Greece, The Hamsa spanned continents.  Google Earth enables me to visualize the geography and topography, and it enables me to calculate times required to make the journeys on foot, train, boat or whatever mode of transportation is appropriate.

Don’t spare the research.  It’s time well spent.

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