Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Researching a horror/sci-fi/fantasy/technothriller

When I was preparing to write my first supernatural thriller, I wanted to learn the best ways to do research, but there weren’t really any books out there on the subject. I just had to jump into the fray and figure it out for myself.

Writing my first novel took a lot more research than I thought it would. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to guess at things, especially technical details. I want to know what kind of boat it is, what kind of engine it has, how fast it can go, who built it, how far it can go on a tank of fuel, how many compartments it has—well, you get the picture. I hate for people to read my books and go, “Whoa, dude—those boats don’t have diesel engines, they have gas engines. Epic fail!”

Right now I’m researching my next thriller and believe me; I’ve had to go around a lot of roadblocks. It’s what I call a supernatural techno-thriller; a Tom Clancy meets Dean Koontz kind of thing. People get a little nervous when you start asking about classified information, though I haven’t really gotten into anything quite that heavy, but so far I’ve found some cooperative people who are glad to help. Not only will they be getting their names in the acknowledgements, but they’ll receive a first-edition signed copy, as well.

The first thing I have to do for this type of book is figure out the basic story from beginning to end. You really have to know the ending, or at least I do, in order to figure out how to get where you want to go, whether it’s character driven, plot driven or both.

Once I’ve outlined the story and figured out who my characters are, it’s time to start writing. Personally, I prefer to research as I write, that way I learn whatever I need to know to move the story along. If I research first and then end up changing the story around because I don’t like the way a certain thing is working, then I have wasted time researching for nothing.

Most of my research is done on the Internet. You can find out almost anything you need to know from Yahoo, Google or any of the other search engines. If it’s not there, then the local library is the next best place. In fact, some may even like it better than the Internet—it’s a personal choice.

It’s also helpful to find people who have been in the situations that you’re writing about. If you’re writing about a Navy ship, find a Navy sailor who has served aboard the same type of ship that’s in your story. You can’t beat real world experience.

That brings me to my next point. If you can actually spend time in a place like the one you’re writing about, such as a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, for instance, or a certain city like New York or wherever your story is set, nothing will make it more real to a reader than first-hand experience. I happen to live in the place where most of my first book takes place and I’ve visited the other places, such as Charleston, Williamsburg and the Caribbean.

If you need to find out technical details about certain types of guns, or DNA, or animals, or glass blowing, find someone who sells guns, or works in a crime lab, or is a veterinarian, or makes glass bottles. And don’t forget to give them credit.

But whatever you need to do to make your story believable, do it. It will only be made all the better for it.

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