Questions about writing: how much research?

You ask. I try to answer.

From Todd:

I would like to know how you approach research and, more specifically, when is it time to take what you’ve got and start writing? Or do you just plow on writing and then research something when you hit something you need more info on? I’m in the middle of researching a fairly hi-tech thriller, but I need to get my “ducks in a row” before I can even begin writing.

Isn’t research fun? Don’t you just want to keep reading, and asking questions, and maybe going to college to get a degree in the subject you’re learning about? Couldn’t you just research for the rest of the decade? I mean, it’s all work, and all related to your novel, right?

Yeah. Keep researching until you know a subject inside out, and you might have a doctorate. You won’t have a novel.

I try to get a grip on major topics in a subject. I read, and if I find out a unique and exciting facet of some subject, especially some technical or scientific subject, I glom onto it and try to use it in my books. But I always stop reading and get writing sooner rather than later. Don’t postpone. If you think you need to learn more about a subject, make a note. Maybe check a book out of a library and read it in the evening or on the weekend, but keep writing. Send scientist acquaintances emails asking them the most pressing issues in their field, but keep writing. You can always rewrite. But not if you’re still waiting to know everything there is to know. That moment will never come. So start typing.

Also, do you go so far as to work out the floor plan of your protagonist’s house and other details like that, so that when you write about it, it has an authentic feel to it?

I don’t draw a floor plan for my heroines’ houses, but I see them clearly in my mind, and the first time I introduce that setting I try to lead readers through the house from the front door, so they feel like they understand the layout.

But for some other scenes, I do draw diagrams: especially action scenes that take place in confined — or three dimensional — spaces. I need to have a clear picture of where walls, stairs, pitfalls, hiding places, barriers, and exits are… and where the people are. Only when I do that can I explain it clearly to readers, so that scenes make sense and flow.

2 responses to “Questions about writing: how much research?

  1. I do so enjoy your blog!

  2. Hi Meg,
    Thanks so much for the answer! I’d LOVE to take a week long writing retreat with you! Your insights are really cool to hear. Of course, you only ever know how you do it in your own mind, so it’s great when you can get input from someone who is successful in this game!
    Have fun in Italia!!

    ~ todd

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