Whether I'm Google mapping street addresses for a better sense of place, digging into ancient history, or learning a new skill, my research notes help to flush out the details in my manuscript, giving my work a level of authenticity that can't be achieved with simple guesswork.
One of my mentors, NYT Bestselling author James Rollins, taught me one of the keys to good writing: specificity. (I can write it, but it's sure a tongue twister to say!)
Most times, I rely on the Internet. It's not possible to travel all over the world - especially when I like to write internationally-inspired stories. But the world wide web is good for everything from looking up a street address to scrolling through pictures of that street for a suitable setting.
When Wikipedia steers me wrong, I head to the library, where I stock up on books related to my research topic. And then, I buy one or two "bibles" - the key texts that give the most authentic background material.
But every once in a while, I need to get a bit more intimate with a subject.
Which led me to buy a recurve bow. No, I'm not going all Hunger Games, but my character in Heartless carries her bow, Chester, everywhere she goes. I couldn't quite understand the challenges of that without experimenting myself. But I also needed to know more about archery - the difficulty in hitting a small target, the feel of the arrow firing from the bow, the strength required to pull back the string.
So, I started taking lessons, bought myself a recurve, and set up a target in the backyard using hay bales and, erm, zombie print-outs. Consider it research for a couple of books.
While I typically like to complete most of the research at the start of any new project, I'm excited to infuse these archery details now, after finishing the first draft of the book. The scenes are really starting to come to life.
And at close range, I'm not a bad shot.
No head, no undead, right?
Learning archery was the right move for this book, but I'm about to start an exciting new project and I've already begun a list of the research required before I actually put pen to paper. I won't need to learn how to shoot another weapon (though, I enjoyed an excursion to the gun range last year), but I will get to face some of my fears...and learn about a whole new exotic location. I can hardly wait.