Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Researching the novel: Making it real and getting it right

In his book ON WRITING, Stephen King said, “Do the research, but don’t overdo it for the reader.” Writers like me should probably take that to heart. But it’s tough, because I love to make things real.

In my last book, LILITH, I wanted the reader to feel like they were there on the USS Gerald R. Ford with me. Being ex-navy, I spent many a day sailing the ocean blue on several different ships, so that experience came in quite handy when it was time to write. I also managed to spend some time aboard a carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, which was pretty awesome. I got to stand right out on the flight deck while the jets were taking off and landing, rattling my bones until I thought they would fracture. The picture below is one I took myself of a navy jet landing in 2010.

For LILITH, I researched several different types of weapons used by Special Forces and CIA, the CIA and its methods, nuclear fission and nuclear power, DNA and genetic mutation, animal tracking, New York City, especially Manhattan Island and its layout, the abandoned New York City subway tunnels, hurricanes and weather patterns, the offices and buildings used by the mayor of New York, the type of security used by the mayor, on and on and on. I used Google maps to see exactly what the parks and buildings looked like at street level and videos to see what the abandoned subway tunnels were like. I even enlisted the help of a retired navy commander to get my facts straight about the USS Gerald Ford, which has yet to be commissioned. 

The research itself took a good six months, the writing another six months. In the end, I had to cut 10,000 words out of the book to secure a contract with DarkFuse, most of it having to do with the back story, via the musings of the ship’s chaplain, Commander Crane, of the creature that takes over the ship. But it was worth it, because the back story will be fleshed out in the sequel, PRIMORDIAL, which I am now writing.

For PRIMORDIAL, as with all my other books; DIABLERO (Nightbird Publishing, Oct. 2010), GOD PARTICLE (Crossroad Press, June 2013), and THE BLACK CHURCH (DarkFuse, Dec. 2013), I did most of the research beforehand. Most of the action for PRIMORDIAL will be set on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean, but there are also scenes in Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Sicily, and Washington D.C.

Since I am not an archeologist and have limited knowledge on the subject, I enlisted the help of archeologists and geomorphologists from Boston U. and NC State, and even picked up a book about the basics of archeology, just so I could get the jargon right. I looked at videos of several different dig sites on Crete, researched modern Crete and its ancient Minoan civilization, which figures heavily in the plot, and did more research on the CIA, nuclear radiation, DNA and genetic mutation. And that’s just the basic stuff.

Sometimes it seems like the research will never end. I just want to turn off the computer and say, “Forget it! I’m going fishing!” But even though I make my share of mistakes, I am a stickler for realism, and getting it right. If I say, “He walked through the gate and into the park,” you can be sure that I have either been there, or I looked it up on a recent video or photo and saw a gate in front of that park.

But in spite of all the necessary research, a writer can’t forget the most important element of any story: the human element. But I’ll save that for next time.

Are you a writer? Do you do a lot of research before you write? How do you go about it? Leave me a comment and tell me about it. If you have a question about research, feel free to leave a comment, as well.

For more information on me and my books, find me on the web at www.tobytatestories.com. Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. It's very tempting to do way too much research - especially if like me you write historic fiction. If you do though there are some really good resources out there such as the Internet Archive. I just did a blog post on how to use the Internet Research to get hold of hard to find out of copyright material for free, see http://marklord.info/2013/10/02/using-archive-org-to-research-your-novel/

    You can get PDFs of old books and primary source material such as historic chronicles and other documents. The Internet Archive is a really good resource - I recommend taking a look.