Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The Research Behind the Story - Writing Workshop Series
Today I want to talk to you about something many do not like, RESEARCH. Maybe this is on my mind because I am in the process of doing research for one of my doctoral projects on Integral Research. Research can be intimidating to some and down right scary to others. For some, it might even be a breeze. Where ever you stand as it relates to research, it is something that is key for the writer. Research is a serious examination of information in order to test a theory or idea. It is a study of new ideas, thoughts or assumptions to see if they are valid. You find this out through your research. This is the process of a writer to study new ideas and thoughts, to do a serious examination of the information available to see if the idea or theory is accurate. In this case the idea is your story plot or line.
Why do you need to do research? You need to do research as a writer for many reasons. Let's go through a few of those reasons. One reason is to find out if your story or a story like yours has been told and how. If you are writing a book about doves, for example, you would want to find how others addressed this story. What new information have you discovered from what others have written? What information is repeated again and again? While this may not seem important it is vital. You want to make sure your story is accurate and that the claims you make are supported with research.
A second reason to do research is to learn new information. When I began to write my book, I Soar: The Chicken is out of the Coop!, I did not really know many detailed facts about the chicken or the eagle. I had some general information. I could have written my book from that place, but it would have missed the depth of my message had I not done the research. I learned many interesting facts about both birds that I had never thought of before. Therefore you do research for accuracy. As a writer you are presenting yourself as an "expert" on your subject. Hence, it is imperative for you to know what you are writing about (not just what you think, but what can you prove).
Finally, as a writer you should continually be a learner, and a researcher. I have found in the process of reading (learning) or researching (investigating) I get new ideas or thoughts for my own writing. I do not "copy" what someone else has written, but my own ideas find rich feeding ground in learning and investigating facts or thoughts.
How do you go about researching? For many the first image that comes to mind about research is this daunting task of reading through several thousand page books or long boring articles. Or maybe it's the frustration of trying to locate what you are looking for from a library or online source. It does not have to be like that, it might, but not always. Don't get frustrated, take your time. I wrote in a previous post about setting a time to write, you should also set a time to do research. Depending on what you are writing will determine the depth of research you will need. If your book is an autobiography, not much research is needed unless you want to tell for example about what was going on at the time of your birth. If you are doing a Bible based book, your research would consist of the Bible of course and other commentaries and/or Bible dictionaries. Depending on your subject you might want to read some work by other theologians to add to your sources. Again, when I did the research for last book, I looked up information about the eagle and the chicken. I wanted to tell some specific stories so I began to look up the information that would answer those questions about the birds. Whatever you do, remember the goal is to add support to your work.
Researching requires you to answer the questions of "what", "who", "why", "where", "when," "how" and so forth. I've heard too many stories from people that read about books that have disappointed them because the story wasn't developed. They didn't understand why someone was mentioned in a story. What did it add to the story? When you research you demand from yourself these questions to be answered. If a character or thought is not able to be developed within the confines of your story, maybe they need their own story or to put that character or thought aside for a moment. Research to develop your stories completely so what you thought you where writing is what your readers actually read. When I was developing my book, one question I asked was about the wings of both birds. Why did the eagle have such large wings and the chicken such short wings? I then asked how does this size hinder or help? The next question was what difference does this make and what can we learn from it? I have these questions in mind when I began to research about both birds. The answers I got where both birds had wings that shouldn't be able to help them fly, which was a different thought than I thought I would get. But this allowed me to get a richer answer and create a deeper chapter than I thought I would originally.
One encouragement I have for all writers is become a life long reader and researcher. Developing these skills will actually help you as a writer. The more you read you become more comfortable and aware of how sentences flow. You know what books you like to read most, why? You know what books or articles you don't like much, why? I can surmise that any book that is difficult to understand the meaning or to follow the plot would not be a book or an author you would want to read again. Don't let that be said about you! Finally, understand when you use other's work, cite it. There is nothing wrong with using work of others, it actually adds agreement to what you write. So when you use others work, cite it.
In closing, it is important for you to be a researcher as as writer. You want your work to be accurate along with well planned and thought out. If what you have to say is worth saying, then be willing to do all that you can to give it a great start. Until next time, keep writing!