I recently finished the first draft of my next novel, provisionally titled The Disease. For my previous two published novels, I did a great deal of the research before I started to write. In the case of Secrets From The Dust, I travelled to and lived in Australia for 6 months. For both those first two novels, I have folders thick with research material, megabytes of computer files and links to many websites, collected over years.
Part of the problem when an author has done a lot of research before he/she begins to write is that they really don’t want to waste any of that interesting material. After all, it has taken months, sometimes years, to gather. There can then be an attempt to shoehorn that research into the novel, which can take away from building a story through plot and characterisation. Some years ago, I read an article by Walter Mosley, bestselling author of the Easy Rawlins crime mysteries, where he said that he did not like over-researched novels for that reason. What tends to happen with that kind of novel is that the setting and atmosphere of the novel can begin to overshadow the plot.
With this latest novel, I did a minimal amount of research at the start, with the main body of the research being carried out after finishing the first draft. The results so far have been quite pleasing. Whilst writing the first draft, I was able to concentrate on telling a compelling story, and when I came to points where I knew that my facts needed to be accurate, or I needed more details for atmosphere and setting, I added a note in the final markup column.
The main body of the research has taken 11 days, much shorter than for my previous novels. I have covered areas such as:
- Viruses – how they arise, how they are transmitted etc.
- Vaccines – in particular oral vaccines
- How the international community would respond in the event of the outbreak of a deadly virus
- Cultural information about former Soviet bloc countries
- Information about East European primeval forests
- Information about caves
There are some other minor areas which I need to look at, but overall, I think this approach will drastically cut down on the amount of time I have to spend on research (hopefully meaning that I’ll have time to write more novels). But more importantly, as I begin the second draft of the novel, it will mean that I am no longer desperately trying to find a way to force some hard earned piece of research into one of my scenes because it’s so interesting.
How has the way you research changed over the years?