People always say to write what you know. And that’s great, but then your novel would be pretty limited, wouldn’t it?
I find writing to be a great opportunity to write about something you don’t know. Find something that interests you that you never pursued and look into it more.
For example, when I was younger, before I decided to be a teacher and realized I wanted to write, I dreamed of being a spy or a detective. I had those play spy kits with notepads and pretend handcuffs and glasses that you would see behind you–the whole nine yards.
And look at me now: I write mystery novels. I’ve studied the police exam to get a feel of what it’s like. I solve puzzles and riddles in mystery video games (one where I’m a defense lawyer). I have books where I study what it’s like to be a police officer or detective, looked up various ways to die and the consequences of murder, and much more.
Let me tell you, it’s not very glamorous.
But when do you conduct that research? Do you cram the information into your mind before you begin? Maybe you research a bit here and there in the moment as you write? Or maybe you just free write, bold scenes you’re unsure of and do the research part after you finish writing?
Here’s your answer: You can research anytime.
That’s it. The end. See you tomorrow.
Well, I did decide to start a post about this, so I guess I’ll elaborate…
Research before writing
There are two reasons you should research before you start writing your novel:
1. You’re a planner.
2. You have a decent list of topics you need to look into or else the first draft of your novel will make absolutely no sense.
When I first started my mystery novel way back when I decided to do the research after. I knew I had a lot to look into and instead of spending a few months trying to learn it all, I figured I would just have the research component be part of the editing process. Or, look small things up along the way.
I love to outline, so I made a list of things I didn’t know, things I would probably need to know or the sake of my novel. I listed them but didn’t bother to look into them right away. Needless the say, the first draft of my novel wasn’t very good, to say the least.
I’ve done research before writing a novel and let me tell you, it’s a lot of notes to dig through as you write. And it slows the actual writing part down a bit.
Research during writing
I’ll admit, I find this one to be the most effective. If you need to know certain tidbits here and there, a quick Google search in the middle of your writing isn’t so bad. If you have something large to expand on, then it may be easier to make a note of it and just go back to it in the editing process.
The perks of researching as you write are as follows:
1. It saves you a bit of time when editing.
2. It gives you a small break in the middle of writing.
While it saves you time with editing, I know you’re thinking that it doesn’t save you time writing at all. But, it gives you a break with the writing.
If you’re on a roll, bold what you don’t know, and move on. Keep writing if your imagination allows it. However, if you notice that your flow has slowed down and you keep thinking back to that one spot you’re unsure of, stop.
Researching in the middle of your writing will give your brain a quick break. It’ll help you figure out where to go next, based on your research, and you may even come up with new ideas.
Research after writing
So you’ve finished a novel and it doesn’t make any sense. You have a list of topics to research, big and small.
Well, go ahead and get started.
Doing your research when you finish the novel helps your editing process get underway as you expand on certain scenes and realize others may not work out as well now.
Then again, you may end you being in for some serious rewriting. Editing is always a long process and adding the research part will make it seem longer. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You should take your time with it after all.
Is researching part of the outlining process or the editing process? Who really knows?
In the end, it’s up to you, up to the novel, and is an in-the-moment kind of thing.
I personally research at any stage of the novel, but I’ll admit I mostly research during and at the end of writing the novel. When you research before you may not know all the information you actually need.
Plus, I’ve always enjoyed researching as long as it wasn’t for a paper for school.
When do you typically research for your novels? How do you go about it? Let me know in the comments below!