Usually I just write and flag "researchable" stuff for the editing phase. Unless, of course, the research is extremely plot-sensitive. But if you're talking era-specific stuff, mechanical workings, language, what-have-you that's there for flavor, I just wing it and fix it later.
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Google ftw. If there's a tidbit of information I need for the story it usually takes me less than a minute to look it up and read up on the bare bones I need to add flavor.
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I read until I'm sure the fact is right. Then I hope the fact is right.
OSC says research as you go because you never know what you'll find along the way.
A character I'm currently writing about is an albino. I researched all kinds of stuff on albinism and the things I came across really helped to shape her personality. Had I not done the research right away, and gone on my assumptions, I'd have a much less rich character and story.
I mix it in. And I dedicate some time to science forums just to find things that spark stories, as well as participate in an interesting community. I also specifically research issues that I am writing about, things that afflict or make characters etc. The research is half the fun of writing.
In particular, when I realise that my ending is poor or not quite satisfying, research can often unlock a new ending that works.
I'm sort of with KayTi, but I write adventure fantasy and generally wing it. My research is very, very subordinate to world building and character sketches.
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It's going to depend on what kind of writer you are ... and how you work.
Some writers are going to research and then write. I think Jeffrey Deaver is like this.
Others, like OSC and GRRM, research as they write. GRRM calls it immersion research.
Others, like Stephen King, research after the first draft so they don't waste time learning about things they don't use.
For me, sparse research is the best. I like to look things up as I go along, mostly because I don't like to rewrite, but if necessary I'll just plow my way through something then research it once I know I need to.
I should be fair, I do actually sling out questions to my facebook friends from time to time, who helped me find the one plant I needed for a specific plot point in my outlined-but-not-yet-started-MG sci-fi novel Adrift. Potatoes, and some substance that they make when exposed to sunlight/uv light (makes potatoes green) that can be toxic in large quantities. Have to re-look it up now that I'm ready to write...
But yeah, I'm not a big planner or outliner (the novel mentioned above has had maybe 2-3 hrs of planning/outlining dedicated to it. I'm going to start writing it next week) nor researcher, but here's the thing - I view life as a massive research project. I'm one of those people who is always learning, always happy to be learning (always happiest when learning?) and thus I figure most of what I do all day long is research, even if it's just trips to the grocery store and to get the kids from school.
But honestly, don't underestimate the value of your facebook wall for research. Similar to the prospect that the audience almost always knows the answer to those Who Wants to be a Millionaire questions, so does your facebook wall.
One thing that attracted me to writing SF was the ability to "make it up as I go along"---I've absorbed a lot of facts about how things work and what things are, and then write from that point. My stories have some depth to them---I know where my characters have been before the story starts, sometimes I know where they're going after it ends, and I know where they stand in (future) history. But not much of it should be showing in the story I've written, so I'm not committed to anything, so I can make changes as I think of them.
Likely, though, this would break down writing, say, alternate history---I know a lot of history, but I'd need more detail on the event I'm altering and the period I'm writing in. (My last attempt at a novel was set in, ostensibly, 1947---it foundered for a number of reasons, but I was also getting caught up in details like what a home hair-coloring kit would look like in 1947.)
If I have an established knowledge base (medicine, Judaism, literature), the amount of research is a little less than on subjects for which I am ignorant.
Similarly, I may discover a story idea while I am reading and will research before I write; and/or I may write (usually because of an image or dialog or character I must write before I forget it) and then expand upon it with research as I write.
For my urban fantasies, I do fairly extensive research on my science and mythology, my settings, and for historical figures and events (even to the point of finding exact dates for holy days, full moons, moonrise and moonset, and high tides)--and perhaps this is excessive. I recently studied the Egyptian dynasties for a story I am writing--something I always wished to learn.
Similarly for my magic systems. I research them and tweak them into crafting an internally consistent set of rules--while being careful not to be so strict that I tie my hands.
I don't know how much people enjoy the little details. I know I do. I recall reading Stephen King's IT and being thrilled when he perfectly described the Bradlee's and Cinema 8 just off Exit 8 of the Maine Turnpike, which was just 3 miles from my home: where I was in my bed, late at night, reading.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
[This message has been edited by History (edited June 03, 2011).]
I should add that some time my research goes deeper than I planned. Once I double checked the name of a certain medieval weapon and spent, maybe, half an hour learning more about that weapon, there were multiple versions not just the one I knew of, and a couple of others weapons.
I haven't had to find the exact time for holy days and tides etc. like Dr. Bob but I would. I think those details are important. Some "facts" and businesses can be made up but those type of details add realism and will turn some readers off if they are made up.
With the help of a fellow hatraker I am doing research into Boulder Col. It's a well known city and I think getting details correct is important. Now in another WIP I made up a city so all the details and descriptions will be made up even though I may add a couple chain businesses which are real.
Sometimes research changes things; with Boulder, I have learned that it doesn't seem to have a certain type of large house after all so I will be needing to find another location for my ending. Not sure where now. I don't want to use a warehouse but I will probably come up with something.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited June 04, 2011).]