Writing a Novel: When to Research

English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

For This Broken Earth I spent at least 6 months researching everything from super viruses to Syrian end games.  I interviewed a U.S. Army colonel, an astrophysicist, a biologist, police officers, a computer security specialist and several others in order to write a novel that was as believable as possible.

Research is highly important to writing a believable novel even if the science fiction is in a galaxy far far away.  No one wants to explain why a lightsaber stops after extending from the pommel three and half feet.

Readers are becoming more and more nit-picky about the details, so it is up to the writer to do the proper research.  Here are a few tips as to when and to what extent research should occur.

  1. Do It All First – This method requires the writer to create an all important outline.  If you are one of those Steven King geniuses who “wings it” this may not be the method for you.  As stated, I spent 6 months researching the end of the world (a time of my life which was very paranoid) but it paid off when it came to writing the novel because I could not only understand all the backstory but also create an environment that was as realistic as possible.  This does not mean that I did not do any pickup research along the way, but it was much better than the second option listed here.
  2. Do It Along the Way – This method is by far the most time consuming.  If you are the author who “wings it” or writes a novel on the fly, letting it form as you go, stopping to research a rather involved topic like the effects of ebola on the human body might become a three day rabbit chase.  This also has the potential to draw you away from the project all together which can hurt the continuity of your tale.  Of course you can fix all that in editing but sometimes it could be harder to keep everything straight.

My advice is to practice method #1 and ditch method #2.  It will serve for less headaches, and will also keep you focused on the task at hand which is writing that novel.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

One thought on “Writing a Novel: When to Research

  1. To date (and I have limited experience), I’ve found that for my short stories, if any research is needed, I need to do it up front. If not, then generally the story doesn’t hang together. The nub of the idea isn’t enough to sustain the story. But for my WIP, as I’m starting I’m just trying to collect thoughts about what needs researching, and my plan is to go into detail when I get to those points in the outline or the story. Why? Because I’m a procrastinator and I love learning, so I know I’ll get immersed if I do it for any length of time. I’ll never get any writing done if I do it up front! 😉

    Interesting post as always Roger.

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