Have you ever lost hours or days chasing down minutia? Research can be a time suck, a treasure hunt, even a gateway drug.
Write What You Know
One way to minimize research is to write what you know. I started writing Spell Check, Book #1 in my Teen Wytche Saga when my daughter attended high school. Her former middle school campus became the blueprint for my mythical Jefferson High. I drew upon eavesdropped carpool conversations for dialogue exchanges.
Incorporate your expertise into your books. Perhaps you are an expert on Regency England or serial killers, waitressing or astral projection. Writing from your power base enables you to write more quickly. Examine the careers of authors you admire or deem successful. How frequently do they produce new books? Most editors expect speed and accuracy.
Write Without Stopping
I am a shaman. In the first three books in the Teen Wytche Saga I employed magic I knew. But Spell For Sophia included voodoo, a magical system outside my experience. To keep the momentum going, I wrote as much as possible without stopping. But a scene involving a voodoo banishing spell required immediate research. Additional details were left for later discovery, and indicated in the manuscript by a bold a triple X. In the following excerpt, Sophia and her love interest Breaux are in danger. With magic as their only weapon, Sophia casts a hasty banishing spell.
Rough draft after some quick, targeted research:
"It may not work," he worried in a hushed voice. He stared down at his handiwork — a crossroads scratched into the earth. In the center he had dug a small indentation. "It's still daylight. And the paper should soak for Research XXX."
"I know. Well, it will soak now." I placed the folded scrap in the hollow and then unscrewed the jar lid, releasing the sharp scent of Research XXX.
Later draft after deeper research:
"It may not work," he worried in a hushed voice. He stared down at his handiwork — a crossroads scratched into the earth. In the center he had dug a small indentation. "It's still daylight. And the paper should soak for nine days."
"I know. Well, it will soak now." I placed the folded scrap in the hollow and then unscrewed the jar lid, releasing the sharp scent of apple cider vinegar. Red pepper and bits of chopped garlic, rosemary, and rue floated in the amber liquid.
Do Firsthand Research
After exhausting library and online sources, I still didn’t understand the nuances of Louisiana bayous and swamps ¾ facts vital to my story. A swamp tour (scheduled to coincide with a book signing in New Orleans) yielded a wealth of information. One tidbit exposed a glaring error, forcing me to rewrite a crucial scene.
Firsthand research doesn’t have to involve an expensive trip. When I do school visits, I like to include a small lunchtime get-together. During one of these informal gatherings, I asked about the soap in the boys’ bathroom. I got an earful about much more than soap, and incorporated the details into a scene in my second book, Spell Struck.
Other writers don’t always get it right, so be wary of basing all your research on secondhand accounts, especially works of fiction. Consider emailing experts. Most people are happy to answer questions. Be sure to thank them and acknowledge them in your book.
By writing what you know and writing without stopping, you can increase your productivity. By incorporating firsthand research, you’ll add authenticity and richness to your writing. Enjoy the treasure hunt!
About Ariella Moon
Ariella Moon is the author of the Teen Wytche Saga, a sweet Young Adult paranormal series. Ariella writes about magic, friendship, high school, secrets, and love in Spell Check, Spell Struck, Spell Fire, and Spell For Sophia from Astraea Press.
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