Maybe it’s the treasure hunter in me, but I enjoy research. On the one hand (especially when the book is REALLY boring), it lets my mind float and come up with things that are far more interesting than the text. And of course on the other hand, you get to find that little nugget of information you were looking for.
This, of course, is when things are going well. And let’s face it, they don’t always. Sometimes it’s next to impossible to locate something obscure and obsession-worthy. Seeing as I appear to have a gift for researching (and obsessing over) strange topics, I have some suggestions.
So, here are my six ways to overcome research blocks:
1) Problem: You can’t find anything you’re looking for.
Solution: Are you searching for the correct terms? Especially in historical and other cultural contexts, just because we use a word to define one thing doesn’t mean everyone has, or ever will. I wanted to find “morgues” and “graveyards” (yes, I do seem to have a thing for dead bodies), but I found nothing. When, however, I started searching for “mortuary” and “cemetery” or “churchyard,” suddenly I found all sorts of information. The keyword is often the golden key you need to unlock the information you search for.
2) Problem: How do I find the right term?
Solution: To locate the term, try searching “around” the specific research item. For example, if I know “coroner” is and was the term for someone who worked in a morgue, I just needed to find out where historical sources thought the coroner worked, and out pops the search terms I’m really looking for and just didn’t know it.
3) Problem: Reading all these texts – especially the poorly printed / scanned ones – is putting me to sleep and making my head hurt.
Solution: Stop whining. Have some caffeine. Get back to work. Your story will be stronger for it, I promise. 🙂
4) Problem: I can find research for what I’m looking for before and after the period I’m most interested in. Now what?
Solution: Extrapolate and keep searching. While a source from 1839 can’t say much definitively about 1817, if a situation is terrible by then – and earlier research suggests things are bad pre-1817 – then it was probably bad in 1817. Likewise, remember that the more recent source may touch on information which predates it. Check the indexes and skim through, leaving no word un-sounded.
5) Problem: I found what I was looking for, but it isn’t at all what I expected. Now what?
Solution: Basically, this just sucks, and you have my sympathies (I’ve run into this before, where research proves whatever you wanted to do is highly unlikely and improbable, which unfortunately you didn’t know until later research. My condolences.) Anyhoo, I think this leaves you with essentially two possibilities. First, change your mind. Yes, it hurts, but if research proves whatever scene / action / etc is now unlikely or improbable – and your smart readers (they are VERY smart) will catch on and it will ruin the story, it’s not worth the risk. Research something new. Second option: make it work, incorporating research and developing a plausible situation. I think this especially works when the research you’ve discovered is especially obscure that maybe you and three other people know it. I don’t advise fudging it, but instead, work around it. Use the research and your knowledge to create a workable situation.
6) Problem: I STILL can’t find what I’m looking for, and I’m at wit’s end. What do I do?
Solution: Find someone who can help. Do not underestimate the kindness of strangers and the immense knowledge available out there. Be open to asking questions, sharing and receiving information. Find the expert that might have your answer, and don’t be afraid to ask your question. Don’t expect them to do the work for you, but perhaps point you in the right direction if necessary.
So, can you tell I’m working on research well re-writing? 😉
What about you? What research troubles have you stumbled upon? What kind of research always trips you up? What solutions have you found to research difficulties? Stories? Come on, share a little. 🙂
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