In the past, I wrote on the importance of researching facts for your stories (if you missed it, you can read my Research Matters: Why I Don’t Read Novels Set in Ireland post), but the process itself can be time-consuming, tedious, and sometimes disheartening, if despite our efforts, we still can’t find the answers we need.
Research can also become a black hole of information, dragging the poor, unsuspecting writer deeper and deeper.
Sounds like a hassle, doesn’t it? Something to be put away until absolutely necessary or done as little as possible. But there’s also a lot of fun in doing research! Here are my three reasons.
Learning new words in English
As I am a second language speaker, I always look for opportunities to learn new words that I can then use in my own writing. Sure, I could open a dictionary and cram in ten or a hundred random words, but learning is always better when it’s in context, and this is what research always provides. But even native speakers can benefit this way as there are always new words to learn. I’ve seen people happy with learning words like “machinations” (scheming, plotting) or “drupes” (stone fruits), or discovering that “a retort” is not only a sharp reply, but also a vessel or chamber for chemical (and alchemical) reactions.
Sure, not all those words should be used all over our manuscripts, else it’ll look like a scientific dissertation, but one or two cleverly inserted in the mouth of a witty character or in a piece of description can add some nice flavor to our writing. After all, since all the stories have already been invented, isn’t writing a way to discover how to describe them in a new way?
Learning new facts and perspectives
Sometimes you have a vague idea about something, so you just want to check a few facts, and when you start digging in, you discover a whole new layer to the subject. Along the way, you also find some interesting tidbits you didn’t expect, and they would be perfect as a bit of flavor in the story. Sometimes they might even enhance the plot or provide an interesting twist. (Sometimes they can also ruin the carefully-crafted story, but let’s stay positive.)
Though I treat Wikipedia more as a place to get general information and links to the external texts than a source of in-depth facts, it can still lead you to interesting places if you allow yourself to be lost in its hyperlinks. Once I needed to know a Polish name for the wooden structure that prevents the mine shaft from collapsing, and in no time I ended up reading about most tragic accidents in Polish mining, and then, somehow, I ended up reading on different types of clouds, and how tornadoes form.
Learning more “Google skills”
Some questions are very specific, and putting them into the search box results in nothing or in many unrelated links. Rephrasing the question or playing around with the keywords that might be relevant can lead to the articles that only mention the subject, but they do it in a way that gives the more in-depth search some direction (or new keywords). Sometimes I always laugh that there are no problems Google has no solution to: there are only wrong keywords.
It’s also a very useful skill for when you’ve read an interesting article and forgot to save it (or add it to your bookmarks), and you’re trying to find it again, having only vague memory of what it was about. Figuring out the set of relevant keywords comes in very, very handy.
I’m sure there are more benefits to doing research for your stories. Can you name any of them? I’m sure I forgot something.