Debut authors delve into the research than drove their historical fiction!
I did two years of research before starting to write my last completed novel. Went really in depth on some things – particularly face mask efficacy, how flu vaccines are developed and grown, and the history of the 1918 Spanish Flu. Every time something fed into a scene idea, I put it down on an index card. Then I sorted the index cards into a sensible order and used those to guide my writing.
Of course, if I had just dived straight into writing, perhaps I would have got my novel finished two years earlier, and then I'd not have gotten gazumped by Covid. Especially as I didn't really use much of what I'd researched because it turned out just not to be relevant to the story.
Going forward, I'm more focused on working out the overall structure, and then I use that document as my leaping off point, doing research when I know it's needed.
I’m somewhere in the middle of all three. I have an outline with the big moments I want to hit. Currently, I’m writing a western fantasy novel and, even though it’s totally fictional, I’ve found that knowing railroad routes and the tribal boundaries of reservations has actually made my story better. Sometimes, I’ll get stuck on research for a couple of hours but it almost always pays off.
I have a Star Wars research question! How do you go about filling in details like Serennian wine being light and fruity? How did Izizian monkeys end up wild on Onderon, while hragscythes are only to be found in zoos?
I imagine when you’re creating a new planet/culture, you’re free to create as many hragscythes as you want. But what about a passing sentence like, say, “I haven’t tasted [obscure food] since I was on Corellia.” Is there a whole email back and forth with someone from the story group? Does the sentence just wait there in your draft like the word [TECH] in a Star Trek Next Gen script until the perfect, officially licensed morsel is dropped in?
I write non-fiction, so I better research to have my facts straight. This has proven very useful lately, as I've doubted almost everything I've written and that has lead to a couple of new discoveries here and there. I've also realized that proper research tempers my... let's say arrogance - my arrogance of thinking I already know enough. It's a process that helps control the ego and makes everything better. So, yes, essential.
Researching has become part of the fun now for me. It seems to illuminate so many details that match or even perfect the things I wanted to write already, and I seem to take joy in deep dives in random pdfs when I find a fact or mythological tale that serves as a lightbulb inspiration. But it is procrastination in a form, however much I enjoy it. Hopefully that dedication and passion will come through in the finished work... whenever that may be!