Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What Does My Research Say About My Novel?

By Lisa Alber

I'm about 15,000 words (~60 pages) into my work in progress (WIP), and it occurred to me that you might be curious about what novel research looks like for one author.

My novels take place in Ireland, so I have an extra level of research. For example, I can't just research, say, coma patients in hospitals. I'd need to know the particularities about coma patients in Irish hospitals.

I start with research here in the States -- this gives me a baseline -- but then I need to do the groundwork in Ireland. (Lucky me!) As I'm writing my first draft I keep notes about everything that I'll need to check into in Ireland.

It may seem odd, but I prefer to do my Ireland research after I've written the first draft. I can get away with this because I already have a feel for the country from previous research trips, and I have a world that I've already created. And there's so much I can find out online to get me started anyhow.

And frankly, at this stage in my progress, when the story is a tender thing with shallow roots, I'd prefer not to let reality get in the way of the storytelling. I know, I know -- that may sound bass-ackwards, but I truly believe that knowing too much reality could limit my creativity.

I can just hear my big old editor brain bossing me around like it alway does: Oh no, character X couldn't possibly do that because that's not realistic.

So, yeah, I like to steer clear of reality as much as possible while writing the first draft. Here's my equation:

ignorance = writing bliss

I'm exaggerating somewhat, but you get my drift. And, just to contradict myself, in my initial  research forays I often stumble onto quirky, odd, and interesting factoids that rock my novelist's world, things I could never have thought of on my own.

So maybe research is a balance, after all. Enough research to get me started but not so much that I get bogged down trying to cram my story into what the research tells me reality it supposed to look like.

So here I am, 15,000 words into my first draft, and here are some of the topics I've looked into thus far:
  • Psychiatric nursing as a career
  • Sociopathy
  • Night terrors
  • PTSD
  • Bible quotes related to resurrection
  • Butterflies as symbols
  • Easter/Spring rites
  • Private nursing homes
  • Lung cancer misdiagnoses
  • Raku pottery
  • Objectivity
You can probably tell a few things about the story from this list. Or may not. Give the same list of prompts to 100 writers and you'll end up with 100 vastly different stories.

So what do you think of when you read my list of research topics? What's the last thing you researched online, related to anything?

Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY, which has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." The second novel in the series will be published by Midnight Ink in 2016 (more information to come!). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter.


Donna OShaughnessy said...

Hello Lisa! I too live in the US but love to write about Ireland. Just finished a 4 week "Irish Studies" session at National University Ireland in Galway. Such a great experience. I took a class with the Irish author Mike McCormack who wrote the novel "Notes from a Coma" that was a great read you might like.

As a nurse I love your list of research topics! Would make a great evening on the net or a great month in Ireland's psych hospitals!

Lisa Alber said...

HI Donna! Oh wow, that must have been a blast! I've never been to Galway, but I'm hoping to explore it on my next trip to Ireland (this spring if all goes well). My novels take place just south of there in Clare, so it should be an easy trip up to Galway.

I need to figure out who to talk to about psych hospitals and all thing health care related.

Shannon Baker said...

For a long time I've resisted writing a professional sleuth. But I'm taking the plunge and so tomorrow... TOMORROW!!... I'm going to the Writers' Police Academy. I can't imagine a more fun way to get the facts right.

Lisa Alber said...

I've heard WPA is so much fun, Shannon! I resist the profession sleuth too -- even though I've got Danny! My stories have as little police-y procedural stuff as I can get away with. :-)