Monday, July 18, 2011

A map of my WIP research (beware, spoilers below!)

I'm about 20k words into my new WIP, and it's been a pretty fascinating ride so far (er, to me). This one seems to be coming slow and steady, in part because it's complicated and I'm still figuring things out, and in part because my job has been incredibly demanding lately. I took a pause yesterday afternoon to plot my way through the next 30k words or so (I usually do a broad outline with lots of notes, then create more detailed scene-by-scene maps, connecting the "dots" of the big moments). I also did some more research.

I don't know how you guys do this, but when I get going on research, I really go. It's a little like Alice down the rabbit hole. Sometimes I follow a thread that ends up being irrelevant to the WIP, but I don't mind because I learn a lot of new stuff and I think it's just part of the process. To show you what it's like, I've created a map of my research-y thoughts and searches from one afternoon. But beware. There are spoilers down there. Somewhere. Maybe.


There we go. That is ... pretty much what the inside of my head is like. For most of those boxes (plus several others I couldn't fit onto the page), I did multiple searches, followed hyperlinks, cross-checked facts, explored related topics, and occasionally watched instructional or informational videos. For some, the search wasn't quite as intense--like for "sundresses", I was just looking for something to describe my MC as wearing, because fashion for my characters is not exactly my strong suit (heh). Then I went scampering back to my WIP outline and frantically typed notes to myself, tying things together and mapping things out.

If your brain works like mine does, then you are now privy to my entire plot, so SHHH! Don't tell! If you're wondering about my organizational skills ... bwahahaha! I'm well known at work for having the messiest office in the suite. I get a lot done, but my organizational style is idiosyncratic at best.

What's your research process like? Do you chase down every thread in order to be completely accurate? Do the minimum because you don't want it to interfere with your creativity? Get it all done up front? Pick up information as you go? What would your research map look like?

Remember to check out Lydia's Medical Monday post and Laura's Mental Health Monday post (Laura's is a must-see today)!

29 comments:

  1. I love novel research, because it never feels like work. One of my books dealt with Greek mythology. I didn't do TOO much research because I didn't want to mess with creativity, but I still wanted to be true to the heart of the Greek myths. In my novel, I ended up making each of the Olympian gods head of their own "House," from which they ruled. Not one but TWO people commented that they couldn't believe how much in-depth research I must have done, because they didn't even remember the Houses from Greek mythology.

    Hee hee hee. :-)

    I've looked up how to blow up a bag of fertilizer, how to do tricks with a lighter, how long people can survive underwater without drowning, statutory rape laws in Maryland ... heck, I've probably put your blog on the FBI watch list just by posting this comment.

    Really, aside from telling the story, I think the "research" is one of my favorite parts.

    Great post!

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  2. I like to research months in advance, emerging myself in the history and life of my intended target. Some novel ideas take up much more research time than others, but I enjoy it.

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  3. These are awesome topics, but I'm even more curious to know about the arrows. How does Valerian Root lead you to knife fighting, for example?

    Otherwise, awesome. I did a whole week long series about how I research, so I'm not going to bore you with it here.

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  4. You had me at "Average vertical leap of female volleyball players". :P

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  5. I love seeing the innerworkings of your brilliance, Sarah! :) I tend to do like you, except I fill up a spiral and a computer doc w/my findings. Also, not quite as organized. LOL. I could never work up a flow chart like the one above. This sounds like some interesting story!

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  6. Hey, your head works like mine (I just don't have any graphs or diagram plotted out like this). I love doing research. That's one of my fav parts of writing.

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  7. That is exactly how I would describe the tangle in my head when I did my historical research. Exactly! Only yours is mapped out more neatly than mine. :)

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  8. It depends on the genre. With my first book I did a lot of research because it was an alternate history and i wanted to be as close to accurate as possible. I do admit though that the urban fantasy research was loads of fun- mythology and all that rot. But my contemporary romance has been practically research-free.

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  9. Ha, ha -- I get this map entirely! Not that I know your storyline, but I know how you can end up researching the strangest little tidbits that don't seem connected at all: turn of the century railroads on Long Island, labor anarchists, Tesla coils, sailor dresses, particle-wave theory, Roswell New Mexico, and the electric Riker Demi Coach, the luxury car of the early 1900's. Yup, that's a glimpse of my current WIP!

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  10. I definitely chase down threads to make sure none of them dangle.

    Oh, no! Someone has an embolism? You're mean to your characters. ;P

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  11. Wow, your poor brain! Actually, that's what mine feels like, too, when I'm researching, which runs a close second to actually writing as my favorite thing to do. (Okay, sometimes it comes in first). I'm fascinated by a few things up there: Irish mythology, valerian, Karst hydrology, average vertical leap of female volleyball players, lullabies. Hmmm, would love to see this book.

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  12. My research process is kinda like yours. Once I start researching, I either stay on that subject for a few hours (ahem, the dreadlock research) or I bounce from one subject to another. Sometimes I look back and think "How is that connected?!"

    Also, yours sounds really, really interesting.

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  13. I research as I go.

    But now I feel like a magpie and want to steal your flow chart idea just for the heck of it.

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  14. Wow, Sarah. I'm impressed with the mapping. I research up front, and then as questions arise during drafting and even revision. I tend to get into it, too, and sometimes chase down leads I know I won't need just because they're so interesting.

    But I have no idea where your plot is going from that map. Your secret is safe with me!

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  15. hi miss sarah! yikes! thats a lotta work mapping out your thinking. for me when i go googling i end up so far away from where i got started that i get lost. ack! then my thinking gets all messed up. i need to neatinize my brain.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  16. You had me at ground penetrating radar.

    Actually...you had me at the towel thing...but...that's not here. Probably because it doesn't require research...

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  17. Hmmm...what in the HELL could this book be about?!?!?! I'm going to guess something IRISH (at least)! Fascinating, girl!

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  18. It is fun to do research! I don't use maps though, I'm not a very spacial person. Sometimes I cheat and start the writing while I do research because once I've gotten to a certain point the "itch" takes over. It doesn't bother me though because I know it's all fluid and can be changed at any time.

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  19. Oh, good! I'm not the only one who starts to research and goes on an insane tangent that somehow leads me from some mythological object to some symptom of a disease or a random recipe. It's all in good fun - you never know when you could use the information you learn. Who knows? Maybe the mythological object could somehow lead to a disease and, surprise!, plot twist!

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  20. I really love how close "Cromwellian-era plantations" and "Knife fighting" are. XD Such different mental images...

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  21. Pulmonary embolism? Really? Does some else die in this book? Someone important? You know I'm always on the look-out for that sort of thing in the things you write. You've made me incredibly sensitive to it. :-)

    ~JD

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  22. Wow that's very cool. Reminds me of the Mind Mapping technique that some authors use (and business people) One thing leads to another, then another vice versa. Very image based as opposed to taking notes and doing chapter outlines.

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  23. Wow, I'm so not that detailed! I tend to be more...linear with my thinking. The more tangents, the more confused I get, LOL! Makes me sound boring, hahaha!

    Thanks for sharing your process--I'm impressed!

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  24. hehe love your mind map. I do a lot of that on my whiteboard. As far as research goes though, I do the minimum to see what I can get away with and then stop. I go back to it once I have a solid story and fill in the details.

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  25. I wish I was this organized. So do my kids. If you throw away a piece of paper in my house, I get to berate you like the shredded the next great american novel :)

    ........dhole

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  26. Whoa. Majorly complicated. I think I got a headache looking at it. And you're sure there's a plot in there? I'm very curious to see how potato famine connects with average vertical leap of volleyball players...

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  27. Ah yes, I frequently find myself going from thinking about lullabies to the pros and cons of ground penetrating radar. Yep.

    Both my MSS have been blissfully/woefully research-free; I intend to change that next time round. Man, I have such high aspirations to plan the pants off whatever my next project is going to be. It is either going to be awesome or I'll end up with so many notes the book will already feel written and I'll never get around to putting words on the page. Fun!

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  28. I'm writing historical fiction now. There are twenty-plus books scattered around my desk for commonly spoken words, popular dishes to serve, and on and on. I love the internet the most. I wanted my characters to dance a cotillion and youtube had lots for me to browse through, some even in period dress!

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  29. Love it! I love mind maps like these. I wonder what my research map would look like...

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