Monday Muse: The Joys (and Sorrows) of Research

HI!!!! Welcome to Nerd Cactus. Sorry we’re late. You know how life is. You get caught up teaching kids (A) or coloring (me) and, all of a sudden, it’s after midnight and there’s no Muse up!

Coloring, I can see you muttering to yourself in bemusement; why the heck is C coloring, and why is that so engrossing you missed your deadline? Well… for one, coloring is amazing and no one needs an excuse to lose themselves in trying to color inside the lines, but, also, I’m in the midst of world building, so the coloring I’m doing is my map. Oh yeah, I’ve gone full nerd and drew my own map.

By hand. Because I tried doing it on a computer and ended up crying in a corner because computers are evil and trying to draw on one is stupid.

Anyway. Today I want to give you a brief line about research. Yes, research. That stuff you hated to do in school but love to do now because you get to pick what, when, and why, dammit! And, for those of us who engage in creative endeavors, it is absolutely imperative to our livelihood. Because, really, even if you’re just making stuff up, you’ve got to have a base of knowledge from which to leap.

For myself, I’m an obsessive researcher. (That’s not necessarily a good thing, though, as I’ll get to in a moment.) Especially when I’m writing historical fantasy, but really always, I am not the kind of writer who can make stuff up on the fly. I need to make sure I know that houses were round in ancient Ireland and rectangular in Gaul, and, just to bring it around to that map I’ve been coloring recently, I spent a lot of time researching various natural disasters and geographical phenomena in order to make this world make sense. Now, I’m fortunate in that my world has powerful deities that rearrange it to suit their needs, so certain things don’t need to make sense, but it has to have a sensible base in order keep the fantasy from being too unrealistic. Later, taking this into account, I get to figure out political boundaries, etc.

Doing research ahead of time comes into the whole plotter vs pantser debate at the heart of writing, but, really, whenever you decide to do research, you’ve got to do it. No matter how fantastical a story, it needs to have a base of realism. So you’ve got to get your ducks in a row. And, of course, if you’re writing something in our world or in the past, you’ve got to make sure geography, weather, events, clothing, etc is right. Heck, even knowing that rich men didn’t ride mares can add a level of realism to your work that isn’t just there for cool, “I know my stuff,” street cred. You’ll also find that knowing your shit makes it easier to write your story. Weather becomes a plot point. A travel embargo means your character can’t go through a nation. Mountains mean they’ll have to be really careful traveling or they might end up with a ticket to the Donner Party.

Now, I’ve found that doing your research ahead of time is better for writing, but I mentioned earlier that this isn’t necessarily a good thing, either. My brain is such that I can’t write at all if I don’t know a certain detail beforehand. If I come across something I needed to know and don’t, writing comes to a standstill until I figure it out. So… getting all my research done ahead of time is really the only way I’m going to get writing done at all. And I’ll always have to be careful not to get so lost in research that I never put anything down on the page.

Like so much else, it’s about a balance. You’ve got to know your stuff, but getting bogged down in knowing everything can often get in the way of ever needing to use that knowledge. So, if you’re like me and need to plot everything ahead of time, make sure to give yourself deadlines and schedule time to devote to actually writing that story of yours. If you’re a pantser (you weirdo), make sure you’re taking notes of whenever you made something up or put in a placeholder so you don’t forget to go back and fix everything after you’re done. Because, really, if you want a good story, you’re going to have to put the work in somewhere; plotters just tend to front load it all.

If ever I get into sculpting, I promise to stop turning everything into a writing lesson. But writing’s what I know, so it’s what I… write…?

Anyway. Sorry we’re late again! A should be back on Friday with a book recommendation! If not, I’ll get a move on finishing this Kay. So far, it’s amazing.

C

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2 thoughts on “Monday Muse: The Joys (and Sorrows) of Research

  1. LOVE IT. Research has been such a double-edged sword for me with my latest WIP, so I totally sympathize. Also: I’ve been making my maps by hand for years. (I’ve not gotten too much better at it, but it’s easier for me. I’m with you about these danged new-fangled clicky-machines.)

    Liked by 1 person

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