Things Every Writer Should Know (2/24/13)
Five Ways to Make Research Fun (And Hopefully More Productive…)
Research. Some of us thrive off of it. Some of us avoid it like the plague. Some of us even use it to procrastinate. Whatever group you belong to, you probably go through spells where you absolutely dread research. Well friend, it’s about time you learned that research can be fun! These five tips are sure to get you fired up.
5. Reward Yourself
If you’re anything like the rest of the human race, you can probably be motivated by a reward. We all have something out there that we enjoy (and by enjoy, I mean “are totally addicted to”), whether it be candy, Twitter, or Minecraft. Often times, that longing can turn into a tool for procrastination. Well my friend, it’s time we learn that some tools are multi-faceted.
Next time you find yourself dreading research, but longing for a game about destroying and placing blocks, tell yourself you can destroy and place blocks for one hour, after and only after you learn what you need to know through research. Do the research before you play Minecraft/eat an entire bag of sour gummy worms/or do whatever your reward is; otherwise we both know you’ll skip out.
4. Do it with a friend.
If you are a member of a writing site, like The Young Writers Society, then you probably have some friends who write. Make a pact with your friend: you’ll research for one hour, if they do too. Hold each other to it. You’ll soon find that both of you are motivating each other to research. It’s a great way to build up your friendship, and get a lot done.
This doesn’t just apply to research, have your writing nights too! You can hold each other to word counts, reviews, or anything else that might take a bit of motivation to do. This not only puts pressure on you, but it can lead to some friendly (and fun) competition!
3. Find out how you like to learn.
Don’t slog through articles if you don’t like to, find a fun way to learn!
I’m writing a western fiction story right now, so I’m playing Oregon Trail. It’s an educational game about pioneers traveling to the Old West through wagon trains. If you didn’t know that, go ahead and give your entire childhood a do-over. I gained insight about the time period, and I also got to learn about locations I could include in my story. Guess what else? I didn’t even pull up Wikipedia once.
If you are tired of reading, hop on Netflix and watch a documentary about your subject matter. If you write fantasy, then watch a movie or TV show that’s similar to your story. Learn through fiction, like number two. The point is, you don’t have to learn through hours and hours of reading articles on the internet. There are much more exciting ways out there! Just like the next method…
2. Learn what you can through fiction.
You can actually glean a lot from fiction. This is true for any genre of writing, even fantasy. How many times have you googled “How do I improve my characterization?” or “Fantasy world building tips”? I’ve googled both of those, and neither of them need to be googled. You’ve been learning all about these two things for years, in fact, ever since the day you could read.
You can learn everything you need to know about voice, structure, and characterization through fiction. Take a look at your favorite author’s most recent book. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like? Ask yourself these two questions, and follow them up with, ‘Why?’ You’ll find that soon, you’ll learn the types of structures you like, you’ll learn how the professionals make their characters pop, you’ll learn how to make your settings exciting. Not through mimicry, but by example. Chances are, your readers are going to enjoy some of the same things you do.
I’m not saying you should copy, cut, and paste another author’s writing. Just learn from it. There are plenty of stories with the same structure, but totally different plots. In detective fiction, there’s the open mystery; in fantasy, there’s the milieu story. While these two plot structures abound, not every story that follows one of those plot structures is exactly the same. Learn from your favorite authors, but be original.
1. Play Detective!
If you know me, you probably know I have a weird obsession with detectives. Luckily, none of them have caught me watching them yet… But if they did, I would take that as a learning experience. I would play detective.
I don’t mean I’d go around following people, detectives try to avoid that. People usually notice you following them after the first five minutes. Detectives will often use more direct methods. They call people, they have friends (not that you don’t), they don’t spend all day hunched in front of a desk googling about the latest poisons, and then LOLCatz, and then Pinterest.
Get out there and interview people, and by people, I mean experts. The last time I had a physical, I asked my doctor how he would go about poisoning someone without getting caught. Before he threw me out of his office and called the cops, I said, “Oh yeah, I’m a writer.”
You know what he did?
He told me everything I could ever want to know about SUCCS (Succinylcholine). He told me how he would get it, he told me why autopsies often overlook it. And then he told me all sorts of interesting stories about his job, almost all of which would make great writing material.
All because of three magic words.
“I’m a writer.”
Now, I’m not suggesting you ask a cop where the best place to dump a body is at. Naturally, you should be aware that some questions you might have could put you on a no-fly list. Be sure you always use those three magic words, “I’m a writer.” That makes [i]almost any[/i] question acceptable.
For some weird reason, people want to talk to writers. They have this strange compulsive desire to tell you every little detail about what they do, because hey, there could be a story in there somewhere, right?
Those three words are the key to wealths of knowledge. Just try it some time, ask your teacher, or your doctor, or a professor an off-beat question. Be sure to mention that you’re a writer. Soon enough, you’ll be flooded with wonderful knowledge!
(Also, don’t pester your dentist during root canals. They don’t always like that…)
So, do you have any tips for making research fun? Anything you think that every writer should know? Post a comment and share your thoughts, or contact me on YWS. Let’s hear it!