WOTF Writer’s Workshop 2018 – April 4th, Wednesday (Afternoon): A Discussion on Research

Dave and Tim opened the afternoon with a discussion on research. We’d read “Search for Research” for homework the night before (because grown adults would never neglect homework assignments) so we started with an exercise, and then Tim and Dave described their own personal research routines.

I enjoyed “Search of Research” because I’m a pretty lazy researcher. I tend to look for the bare minimum of details and often write on assumption rather than knowledge. It’s gotten me into trouble many times. Hubbard asserts the wrongness of that mentality. He discovered that by researching a topic thoroughly, he “mined” stories from the research and found that a single research excursion (he’d often go to an expert and experience things firsthand) provided him with material for a dozen or more stories. It ended up being more cost-productive.

The exercise we performed functioned on a similar principle. We worked with a partner and “mined” our life experiences for possible speculative stories. It was surprisingly easy. I use a lot of metaphors to describe my life and if I take any of those metaphors literally, suddenly I have an interesting story on my hands.

After the exercise, Dave and Tim delved into their personal approached. I don’t think I’ll ever meet two writers so opposite. It was great to listen to them describe the two extremes.

Dave is a doer. When he wants to research a topic, he wants to get out there and experience it. He described several such excursions. On one, he and his wife spent day after day in Europe visiting one castle after another as Dave learned the various architectures, constructions, histories, and the why’s and why not’s of castles. On another excursion, his wife waved him off as he left to spend two weeks living on the bayou in the American South. On this occasion, he learned about the glittering eyes of territorial wolf spiders, and mosquitoes, and humidity, and the cacophonous sound of bugs and bullfrogs. For him, research is all going and doing. This quote basically sums up his method: “Do research to the point where you have facts that no one’s heard before.”

Tim is a homebody. He does whatever research he can from his comfortable desk at home. In fact, he talked a lot about the agony of writing. He struggles with every stage of it, particularly beginnings, and has to coax and coerce himself to write each day. He loves distractions. So, unsurprisingly, his closest research companions are Google, YouTube, and Google Earth. He takes tours through YouTube. He visits exotic regions using “street view” of Google Earth. He checks blogs and threads and tweets and gathers byte after byte of information.

And though Dave said he wanted to get out and experience things firsthand, he admitted that these tools come in handy when there’s a place you want to research but you just can’t (or shouldn’t) get to. He talked specifically about a town that he wanted to research but that the town is populated by a gang that robs and kills travelers that pass through it. He went for a visit and the visit nearly ended very poorly.

They said that research is important not only to find stories, but to establish credibility. Dave said that you must master realism to transport readers well. It helps your writing to be believed. Interestingly, he even said that just a “gesture” toward explaining how your magic works earns you credibility with your readers because it shows you are a thinker even if that “gesture” is itself based on fictitious laws. He said research is “more about plausibility” than accuracy. As an example, Tim said, “If you’re writing about the distant past or the distant future, make sure they’re [your characters] are not 20th CE people.” Basically, research and plausibility should inform all parts of your writing.

Honestly, it was a massive info-dump of fantastic material, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

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