24 January 2015

Research 2: The Novel's Bible

Research has been filling my days of late, as it does for most novelists. Some of it is dry, some of it revealing, some of it , though interesting, will never make it into the work-in-progress, yet it may prove to be the founding of a future book. 

Despite there seeming to be an awful lot of it, I always harbour the niggle that I've never found enough. It's not that I fear my characters will open their mouths and utter an anachronism, more the chance that I might have missed that jewel of a sentence which will align planets and produce a whole new scintillating sub-plot. Or future book.

However, that is no problem at all set against using the research collected. For a start, it is never ever gathered in any useful chronological or subject order, can come from absolutely anywhere, and is therefore often committed to any number of notebooks, my mobile's voice-recorder, camera or, as happened this morning, on the back of my shopping list while at the local supermarket (goodness knows what security surveillance thought I was doing). Reading and digesting this for a general overview is one thing. Making it all easily retrievable to check a single fact is not. 

Some writers swear by using spreadsheets; I swear at them. Some writers use a ledger, though I eschew this as I could see myself spending half a day riffling through the pages trying to make sense of my hand-written scrawl. For me it is the ubiquitous Word, though any word processing software would do as long as it supports Bookmarks.

Bookmarks linked to passages via internal hyperlinks have saved my sanity. As it grows it becomes my Bible, a one-stop shop for not only research information but continuity issues, or, to be precise, to ensure that continuity issues don't develop.

The front page, page 1, starts the hyperlinked sections index. Next comes a Statement about the book (think of a company's Mission Statement). At the moment I am writing Pilgrims of the Pool, Book 3 in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, so I have a statement about the entire over-arcing story, and a statement covering each of books 1 and 2. Then come the character sheets, then starts the Research. As the books cover both a contemporary and a historical setting, there's Research: Historical and Research: Contemporary. 

Into this shell is drip-fed my gathering research information, with sub-headings being bookmarked and added to the at-a-glance Index as research information accumulates. A lot of it, especially background information, consists of web-links with explanatory notes, supported by linked Evernote pages, but there will also be notes to image files, physical books on my shelves and in the public library, or to the vertical magazine holder sitting at the back of my desk slowly filling with newspaper cuttings, brochures and photocopied information, grouped into labelled transparent pockets. Some of this may well have started gathering before I was halfway through writing the previous book. I never snub research information just because I'm not ready for it at the moment it pops up.

With all this a mere click away I can let go the mental reins and immerse myself in the characters' stories, and create.

If you're not certain you've given research your best shot, I can recommend April Taylor's ebook Internet Research For Fiction Writers. The author was an information officer before becoming a novelist, and hearing how she manipulates the internet for information was a revelation. The book  became my Bible2.

Follow on to Research 3 Adding Character Sheets to the Bible


  1. A very insightful post. I find it fascinating hearing about authors' research methods. I use Scrivener and Evernote, plus the trusty shower door on the wall in front of the desk. I am also delighted the Internet research book has it's place in your armoury. Very much looking forward to reading the book.

  2. Thanks for dropping by to say so, April. I've not got my head round Scrivener enough to give it a whirl, and alas no wall long enough for 'shower door', though I can see it would work as a great whiteboard. Might actually have room for a small whiteboard, now I look round.