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 Doing Research

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Ghislaine Emrys
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PostSubject: Doing Research   Sun Jan 06, 2013 6:16 pm

Soon after I joined this writing community, several board incarnations ago, I posted a query about doing research for stories. The responses were very informative. That springs to mind right now because I just read a great article on the same topic. I'd be very interested to hear your reactions to and views on it. Here's the link:
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/rapturous-research/?ref=todayspaper

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PostSubject: Re: Doing Research   Sun Jan 06, 2013 6:38 pm

Great article, Ghis; thanks for posting it.

I definitely see myself in it, having been known to stay up until all hours of the early morning looking up just one more fact, then another, and another, and so on, and so on, and so on. So, I concur, absolutely; the author is preaching to this member of the choir. As well, IMO, the author definitely gets it right with the idea that we must cherry-pick amongst all the wonderful facts and data, and be judicious in choosing only what's necessary for the story, so as not to let the narrative get bogged down. (I can hear Joe Friday -- "Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts" -- although not too many facts!)

It might follow that too much research is a waste of time. I disagree; one can never do too much. Even if it's not used in the current story, research can stir the bunny pot or even be used for plot points. For the latter, in at least one story I've done, some of the real facts lent themselves to moving the story along when I wasn't sure how exactly to bring the protagonist to his demise, as the story demanded. An otherwise minor incident found during research, with which I wouldn't have done anything, became the catalyst for that, and the tale was better off for it.
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PostSubject: Re: Doing Research   Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:43 am

I can definitely see myself in this. I do copious amounts of research, and can get carried away so easily following fact, from fact, from fact. I don't actually find any of it useless, it all seems to add to stories and can plant seeds which can lead to other stories further down the line.

You don't need to mention them all, just mentioning one little detail in the background can add so much to a story

I love coming across little gems which confound expectations, or looking at the odd domestic matters which now seem arcane, but which were too ordinary to be routinely documented, which when mentioned can add veracity to a story.

I admit to looking everything up, even office stationary, how oil paints were sold at the time, were words in use... the list goes on. It's not work when you love doing it though.
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PostSubject: Re: Doing Research   Tue Jan 08, 2013 6:03 am

Do you have any hints or wise words for those of us who are newer to research? So far, all I've done is google when I want to find some information. Sometimes you get a hit, and sometimes you get 10,000 entries that are completely irrelevant.

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PostSubject: Re: Doing Research   Tue Jan 08, 2013 7:58 am

In reply to RosieAnnie, I think your answer from Google is as good as the question you ask, so sometimes you need to be extremely specific in what you want to know. I have to say, though, that coasting around has taken me into obscure corners where I have found gems I wouldn't even have thought to look for - like a town which really made it's living from tourists who came to see the 'Indian raids' and 'robberies' in the 1870s and 80s. As long as it's in period and in place it may always be of use in another story. I hope that helps. Research is just about my favourite part.
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PostSubject: Re: Doing Research   Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:46 am

I totally agree with Silverkelpie; you really do have to be very specific. To that end, although most search engines are now fairly intuitive, I do sometimes resort to Boolean operators to further refine a search if I'm not getting the info up front. They're not perfect, but they do sometimes help with more specific results.
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Ghislaine Emrys
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PostSubject: Re: Doing Research   Tue Jan 08, 2013 3:58 pm

A few suggestions for RosieAnnie and others about conducting research:

a) Find newspapers that have online archives of articles dating to the 19h century; type your search query in the paper's search bar and see what comes up. I've read many a fascinating article. Also, try and find blogs about topics of interest to you and then follow them.

b) This may be obvious and many people may already be doing it... Whenever you come across a website or webpage that is of interest--currently or potentially--bookmark it. I have a slew of sites saved, and have categorized them into a folder entitled "Useful Info for Stories." Subfolders are things like: railroads, people, food, clothing, guns, history, and the all-important miscellaneous.

c) And don't forget to consult the info in the Western Sites thread, found in the Writers' Aids forum on this board: http://asjfanfic.forumotion.com/t42-helpful-links

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