I like to put things on spectrums. When it comes to considering how research intensive a story will be, the spectrum might look something like this.
The considerations involved are:
1. Whether your research can be accomplished mainly through primary or secondary sources: Primary research means the information is collected by you from the original source, like when you conduct interviews; secondary research is when you are reading, for instance through a Google search, information collected by someone else. Because memoir authors are their own main primary source, memoirs are generally along on the less research-intensive side of the spectrum.
2. How accessible the sources are: Do you know someone you can interview, or do you have to route a request through a multi-national’s media relation’s department?
3. How much time will be spent researching: For instance, have you chosen character professions you understand, or do you need to read a few books on forensic pathology?
My first book (the one I fondly refer to as my ‘practice’ novel) fits into the first category (based on events I had experienced), though maybe a smidge to the right of it, because I did age my characters down from college to high school, and so I spent a fair amount of time researching youth trends (clothing, slang, etc.) I also visited a couple of high schools and worked with beta/sensitivity readers who belonged to the diverse cultures I was attempting to respectfully represent. Yes, there was a lot of research, but not nearly as much as what I had to do for my second novel.
I switched genres to adult thrillers, because I had an epiphany that I would be better off writing for the bookstore section I’m usually drawn to (and I was right.) When I conceptualized the idea, I was cognizant that nothing in my life was thriller worthy, and so I was consciously aiming for category three (characters and setting I know a lot about) as far as how research intensive I wanted my story to be. This may not be true, but I was worried back then that unagented authors have a harder time getting potential interviewees to give them the time of day. I did have a police detective in that story, which I knew nothing about, but we don’t see him in his professional role very much in the story, and that was purposeful on my part. If I had played up the police angle, I would have had to do a lot more research.
My third novel, which I am currently writing, is on the right of the spectrum (way out of my wheelhouse.) It’s a police procedural mystery set in a Nova Scotian town that I had only visited once a few years back. The story takes place during a particular annual event that is fairly unique to this town, so I booked a flight and rental car on points, and off I went. Two weeks, a couple thousand photos, and nearly one hundred interviews later, I came home and started plotting. As I did this, more need for primary interviews from specialists arose. One mistake I’ll never make again is underestimating lead time specialists may need, because this put me a month behind my optimistic schedule.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.
Have your novels been less or more research intensive? Do you consciously aim for one or the other? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.