Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lauren v. The Research Question

Let me begin by saying thank God for the internet.  Second, I'd like to thank Amazon for making so many of their writing books reasonably priced.  Oddly enough, Amazon also sold me the highlighters I use to signify important information, the post it note tabs that mark whole pages from which I plan to take notes, and the case in which I keep my glasses that make the reading of tiny tiny print possible.

Oh research...What can said about research?  I'm sure every college student that has ever penned a forty page paper is holding their middle finger up to the screen right now.  I don't like research any more than you do, college kid.  Research is one of those things in my life that I consider a necessary evil.  It's time consuming, sometimes boring, and other times it's extremely difficult.  It's also invaluable when writing about a subject on which you are not an expert.

Any amount of credibility in my writing is obtained through massive amounts of probing into very strange topics.  I happen to know a great deal about poisons, drug use, and secret societies as a result of dedicated examination.  This kind of information can be gathered in any way, of course.  Believe me, it can be tedious work to stare at a book for three hours and glean only a tidbit of knowledge.  There have also been times that I've ended up with a book that looks like it could belong to a college freshman in the first chapter of their critical reading text.  

I'm sure I'm flagged on some kind of list with the government, based solely on the books I've ordered from Amazon or rented from the library.  I have a book on my shelf that is called Murder and Mayhem.  If that's not suspicious out of context then I don't know what is.  I also have one called the Howdunit Book of Poisons.  Taken for what they are, they make sense, but from an outsider's perspective that is perusing my book shelves?  Not so much.  

There is the kind of research that comes from life experience.  Just as an example, in a book I wrote in the past, my main character was a swimmer.  I was a competitive swimmer for a very long time, so a little life experience came into play for that particular character.  I've also been in the medical field for ten years so I've accumulated quite a bit of terminology.  Living something for a period of time sometimes help to focus your creativity.  Prior to publishing Postmortem, Patricia Cornwell actually worked in a medical examiner's office.  Kathy Reichs, the woman whose series is the basis for Bones, is actually a forensic anthropologist.  Jonathan Kellerman, like his main character, is a Psychiatrist.  Everyone does their research, be it from a book or from life experience.

Another popular form of research for crime writers is the ride-along.  A ride-along is essentially what happens when a local police force allows a citizen to ride in their squad cars for a typical day in the name of investigative journalism or just in the interest of public relations.  I would love to do this, but the Pennsylvania State Police do not permit ride-alongs (not even for cadets that have yet to graduate from the academy!).  I fully intend to keep trying to find a way to make a ride-along happen, or at the very least, an interview.  

Now that you all know the history of research for writers (sorry if I bored you all to death), I will proceed to tell you my personal issue with research.  I do too much of it.  I use it as a stall tactic.  I talk myself out of writing about things based on my level of knowledge about them.  I'm one of those people that has difficulty suspending disbelief (in certain situations - while I do not believe vampires exist, I find them entertaining) when it comes to ridiculous events taking place in movies and television shows.  I, in turn, assume that every is like this.  

Given my history of over-analyzing and over-editing, I am paralyzed by the fear that if any of my facts are the slightest bit inaccurate that people are going to throw my novel in the trash and never give it a shot.  I told you I have writing issues!  I also tend to ignore the fact that I have, many times, gone with the ridiculous flow in books.  I don't honestly believe that the cities I read about in books are consistently plagued with new serial killers (seriously, why would anyone live there?).  I can't rationally accept that a witty and gorgeous female heroine foils the plot of the bad guys every. single. time.  I've never, in my history with books, thrown a book in the trash.  I've finished a book and declared it crap, but that's never been based on said book's basis in reality.

So, yeah, I'm Lauren and I'm a research addict and self-doubter.  Like I said, my struggle is not in the process of research.  My issues lie with when to stop researching and actually write.  Seriously, when is it enough?  At what point do I commit this knowledge to paper just to get it all out of my head?

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