Hello there Dear Friends and Gentle Readers! Today I am here to share with you a few tips about adequately researching your subject prior to the start of your writing project. Research is an integral part of the creative writing process that cannot be overlooked. Sure, you can write what you know, but sometimes you might find that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.
In a recent writing project, I decided that a primary antagonist was going to be an alligator. Having grown up in Florida, I felt that I knew all about alligators, however I found that when I began writing the scenes with the alligator that I knew very little. I struggled to write anything other than a description of the beast. I had no idea how alligators behaved or how one would act in the situation I was writing. This made writing my scenes very, very difficult. For example, at one point I had the murky green monstrosity burst into a home, smashing through the door and strutting into the middle of the foyer as though he owned the place. Obviously, alligators do exactly none of these things. A little research would have gone a long way to solving this problem, but alas, I was a little too focused on other aspects of my story and the poor alligator fell into neglect.
So, how might I have better researched alligators, and how might you research your writing projects?
1. Read! Read! Read!
The number one thing I could have done to have save myself trouble while writing about the wiley alligator is, surprise, actually reading about the animal in the first place. Since I knew very little about dear ol’ Wally Gator I was unable to fully express him as I composed my tale. Before you write, make sure you read up one anything you aren’t 100% familiar with before you begin. It will make your job so much easier and your writing will be so much stronger as a result.
2. Talk to an Expert
A simple trip to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm could have saved me hours of frustration when it came to writing about the alligators in my story. I would have been able to talk to some real life experts about alligators and ask all the questions I wanted about their habits. I might have even gotten some better ideas for my story. Talking to experts is always a good idea no matter what you are writing about. They are usually no more than a phone call or an email away and they are more often than not more than happy to talk with you and answer your questions. Nothing ventured is nothing gained. It never hurts to ask.
3. Hands on Research
The best thing I could have done might have been to have simply spent some time with some alligators at the Alligator Farm, simply observing them and taking notes on their behaviors. There’s nothing quite like doing your own hands on research. Depending on what it is you’re writing about, it’s not that hard to go and observe your subject and take notes about it to help inform your writing. Whether you’re writing about 18th century architecture or civil war battle sites, if you’re able to visit the places and take notes, that is the best way to conduct your research and get a feel for your subject matter.
So you see with just a little extra effort to get to know the creature, either via additional reading, observation, talking to experts, or even just a quick Wikipedia search, Wally Gator could have been a real force to be reckoned with and the final confrontation with Buckley might have felt more significant and realistic. I don’t expect that you should know anything, or care, about these characters, but rest assured, if I had actually done my research on the alligator, you would totally care!
What are your thoughts on research? Do you research before you research before you write? Do you wish you researched more? Were these tips helpful? Let me know in the comments!
Joyce Ann Underwood is a blogger and essayist. Originally from Crescent City, Florida she spent her childhood on the back porch listening to the old-timers tell stories. This ignited a passion for nonfiction storytelling that she honed while studying creative writing at the University of West Florida. Her poetry has been published in the creative journal, Kairos and on the website HIV Here and Now. Her essays have also been featured on Offbeat Home. She blogs at www.firstpersonnarrative.com and joyceannunderwood.blogspot.com.