Thursday, 27 February 2014

How do I research for a story?

How do I research for a story?

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Research is of utmost importance when you are writing a novel. Even when the setting of the story is a place you are born and brought up in you need to research about the place. There will always be a story or an incident you aren’t aware of and that incident could be significant for your story. Never ever make your facts superficial. Dig deep and nail the details. 

Now, how do you go about researching for a story?

1.  Firstly, know what you have to research. You can know that only when you know what your story is all about. Map out all that you have to find out before the actual researching. Otherwise, you will end up wasting time and resources researching about unnecessary things. Update your list of all the things you need to research as you learn new things and go about with the story.

2. Details matter -Are you writing a sci fi set in space? Your research shouldn’t stop when you find out all about gravity, the space equipment or the astronomer’s suit. You also need to know what actually happens to a human body when they are in space. Some real life comments on how one feels in space. What happens when one returns to earth after the travel? How do they feel mentally? Or physically? DO NOT BE SUPERFICIALL IN YOUR FACTS. It doesn’t do any good. If you are hoping for a solid story then get those facts right. Now, how do you verify the facts? Look for different sources of knowledge. Has Google told you the egg comes before the chicken? Then find out how many sites say so. What is the authenticity of those sites? What do the experts say? Yes, it is a lot of work. I never said research was easy.

3. Internet is your best friend, Wikipedia isn’t – Yes, Wikipedia has helped you complete many of your school assignments but it isn’t going to help you to get your facts correct. Always browse more and read from other sites too. Compare the facts to find out the most precise one. Actually, stay away from Wikipedia until the end. That way any influences will be under check.

4. Travel guide book all the way- Writing about a place you haven’t been to before? Travel guides – book and person- are your best friends. The internet is an ocean of resource and you can find almost everything there. But the actual travel guides will tell you what are those things you need to look up on the net. You will be able to find many guide profiles on the net. Ask them if they are willing to help you out with a doubt. Many will be enthusiastic about it. Use ‘I’m a writer’ card whenever you can. People get excited and talk more. Travel guides act like the starting guide, the internet being the more detailed and elaborate channel.  

5. Google all combinations – Type out all combinations of words in the search bar when you are looking up something on the net. Different links come up each time and one might just be the one you are really looking for. Sometimes try out yahoo answers. Say, you are writing a medical thriller and you want some info on doctor’s lingo search for ‘what is the lingo used by doctors + yahoo answers’. You will be surprised how helpful those things are. 

6. Library is a magical place- Take a leaf from Hermoine’s book.  The resources of a library are there to be exploited. There could be one book on some shelf that will open up new vistas for your writing. Head to a library when it is research time. Internet isn’t the only Know-It-All. 

7. Practical work – if you think research can be limited to the internet and books you are wrong. Sometimes, they don’t tell you everything. For instance, you are writing about a place where a particular food is famous and you plan to include that in the story. You can’t just put in the name of the dish and talk about how hot the eats is (if it is a spicy one, that is). What do you do? Taste the food! Go ahead and cook it yourself to find out everything about it. You could just ask someone who tasted it before. But I believe that people miss out the finer things that writers can pick out. The smell, the memories the smell/taste brings, all those things which will bring the particular dish to life.

8. Be a nuisance -  Yes, you read that right. What I mean is that ask ask ask people who you think might know the answer to a question you have. Be nosy. Want to know the perfect weapon to kill a person? Who else better to ask than a doctor. Hassel them until you find out. Surgeons, policemen, whoever you need are people you can find around you. Go to them for help. Now, don’t go harassing them so much that they get a restraining order against you. 

9. Find a person – What job does your protagonist do?  Or any character for the matter? Is one of them a spy? Go find a real spy to pick up some tricks from. Maybe the internet or a book will tell you how it is to be a bus driver but only a real bus driver will be able to give you those juicy bits our dear Google cannot. Find a person.

10. Lastly, experience everything – Research has no start or end. You are always looking for information. Experience new things, try out adventures, and do all those crazy stuffs. It gives you firsthand knowledge when you talk about a particular thing in your story. I, for instance, know tarot card reading. If I were ever to include tarot cards in my story, I will know exactly what I’m talking about. Next time you are traveling by train, make notes about your experience. You have no idea how helpful they are. Better still, take videos. 

Research is an amazing part of writing a story. You learn, read, see so many new things you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Embrace the hard work that goes into research. It will pay off. 

Have any points of your own? Tell me!

Manisha Mahalingam

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