Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Searching For Buried Treasure

By Harley D. Palmer

Research is a huge thing for writers and something not to be taken lightly. I have met people who think only fantasy, sci-fi, and historical writers have to do research but that is NOT true!

In one of my recent works, “The Story of William Archer” I had to do extensive research for his world. The biggest search was about pirates! I also had to find information about medieval knights, and a few other small things (like Victorian era technology for cameras, “vehicles”, etc.)

I love doing research! It is a huge high for me. It inspires so much of my writing! I was looking up pirate ships terms and in figuring out what type of ship William Archer has, I was able to craft an entire scene (as I figured out what type of ship the enemy had) – and voila. Instant fight scene fell right before my eyes. My research will allow me to write a realistic fight scene.

And that’s the key with research people – realism! I would hate to read a novel and have the person describe a weapon or a ship or something in the wrong way.

But wait Harley, with some genres you can make it up! Sure you can. But how can you make something made-up seem real without a bit of research into the field? Sure you can make up some super futuristic weapon – but if you know NOTHING about guns how can you make it seem real and believable to your readers?

Research for me is a hunt of buried treasure. Invariably, I always find a brand new nugget of information that I didn’t know I was looking for or didn’t know I needed. I get excited as I learn new things and fill up my research notebook. Why a notebook? Well what if I need to use the same information later on, in another book? My research time for that new project is cut in half since I already did the research!

Make sure you take the time to search for your buried treasure. There is a wealth of information out there so make sure you get your hands on some. Your writing will be the better because of it and your readers will love you for it. It is NOT a waste of time – if anything it saves you time.

So, go out there and make time. Check out books at the library or “google it”. The internet is full of treasure chests of information – USE IT!

And of course in the end have fun. I have found that if my research begins to put me to sleep, I might need to rethink my need to put it in the story. This is true for me, and may not apply to everyone of course – but I stop and rethink if the research gets boring. If it’s boring during the research phase, I’ll be bored when I write it. And THAT ladies and gentlemen is a waste of time.


  1. Thanks for the direction. Sometimes I have found myself wanting to fake it because I am so in a hurry to get to the writing part. I find myself frequently doing this, so I have to discipline myself to stop. It is a good point you make about allowing the research to drive the plot, etc. Thanks for the encouragment.

  2. You're welcome James. I do that often too but then in the rewrite I find the huge mistake. Then it takes even more time to finish. I have to not only do the research but then have to go through the entire manuscript and fix things (entire scenes sometimes) to make it work. So it really is a time saver in the long run.

    Yes, my research drives the plot quite a bit as everything as a purpose so...

    I'm glad you were encouraged by my words!

  3. I had fun changing characters and designing new parts to match the fascinating research facts I came up with.

    Thanks so much for blogging with us, Harley!

  4. Thank you for the blog, Harley. It's refreshing knowing that science fiction writers like myself aren't alone in the research department.

    And I fully agree. If the research is boring, so is the story.

    So far, I haven't had any boring research.

  5. Interesting post, Harley, thanks. It's true that most of us don't realize what kind of research goes into writing sci-fi but of course, it needs verisimilitude like other genres to be believable, even if fantastic. BTW, congrats on your short story win! Well deserved.

  6. CJ - I was honored to be here again. It is fun to add to or change a characters' stats because of research you found. Many of my characters have gone through major overhauls because of phycology research I have done on how people would normally react in a given situation.

    Greg - Oh, no everyone should do research in my opinion! Even if you write contemporary romances - research is key. I mean, how could you write about a character that works as a cop (or any other profession) and not know anything about the operations of the police department? I'm glad you haven't had any boring research so far. I have but only on a few instances.

    Supriya - Thanks! Oh yes, lots of research. I hate listening to fantasy/sci-fi writers or any writer for that matter that literally holds the attitude that they don't need to do research - at all! I don't know any of them that are published either! Sure, some things take more research than others. Even my Dad who is retired Army would have to do research on the military - he doesnt' know EVERYTHING!