Friday, November 15, 2013

Kevin Sterling – The Importance of Research @ksterlingwriter

“The Importance of Research”

When people start writing a first novel, the prevailing recommendation is to “write what you know”. That’s great advice because most first-time novelists are doing it on the side, thereby limiting the amount of time they have for research. In other words, writing what they know allows them to bop along with the confidence that they have a solid understanding of the subject matter, setting, culture, people, dialect, etc.

The truth is that no matter what you write about, SOMEONE out there knows more about the subject than you do, and they’ll catch your mistakes. Not only that – some of them will broadcast your indiscretions to the world and tarnish your reputation as a viable author. Thankfully, I have been very thorough with my books and haven’t weathered such an experience, but I know people who have, and it’s no picnic.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to be an expert on everything you write about, which means thorough research is essential. And if you’re embarking on a complex or historically significant subject, you better pull up a chair and plan to spend some time getting up to speed.

Authors generally have a clear vision of what their novels are about before they start writing, which means they can perform a lot of research in advance. But if you’re like me, and you let your story go where it must, all sorts of new elements come into the picture, and you simply have to stop what you’re doing at some point and go back into research mode.

It’s no fun to halt the writing process when a story is moving along at warp speed, but you don’t want to write pages and pages that ultimately can’t be used because they’re simply…wrong. The spawn of every book I’ve written is a Word file full of pages (if not chapters) that were ejected because they were unusable, and I’d like to keep those to a minimum, thank you very much.

On the positive side, research can be fun and interesting, and I’m enthralled by what I’ve learned in the process. Sometimes I have to rip myself away from reading historical texts that no longer have any relationship to my story, but I get engrossed, and it’s all so fascinating. But then, there’s always the chance of running across something unexpected that could propel one’s plot to the next level.

I comb real life news and world events to spark story ideas, but random research often inspires tangential concepts that build complex interrelationships and create a complex plot with unexpected twists and turns. In Lazar’s Mission, I never anticipated using Nazis as the bad guys because the concept is so passé, but I found amazing historical facts that remarkably tied into my original storyline, and it was impossible not to use them. I was so excited about it, I could hardly stand it.

Writing a novel is a challenging process that can take years to accomplish, so there’s no reason to sidestep something so simple that has such a relatively small time commitment as thorough research.

Kevin Sterling

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Genre – Action, Mystery, Suspense

Rating – R

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