Research is something professional writers do. I know, I’ve heard them say so. Trouble is, we don’t all have hours upon hours to pour over endless reams of material. This is why research takes time, and new writers should not be put off by the thought of it.
I recently decided to start putting together a new project, something entirely separate from ‘The Figment Wars’. It’s another fantasy, certainly, and some might ask why does a fantasy novel require research? Surely you just use your imagination? That, after all, was the main basis for ‘The Figment Wars’. An entire world populated by figments of human imagination, where the rules are entirely subject to my whim as a writer. The best fantasies, however, have roots in the real world.
This new project currently revolves around a key character. A tyrant. A despotic ruler loved by his supporters, loathed by his enemies, feared by both. I wanted to delve into what makes a tyrant. My specific focus at this early stage is how they come to be a tyrant. How they rise to power, how they keep it, and how they usually lose it. It’s a dynamic that has always fascinated me, so before putting finger to keyboard and actually starting this new story, I’ve been busying myself with research.
Research isn’t easy when working a full time job, but it can be done. Ultimately it depends on how you learn best. How you absorb information that’s presented to you. This is where my teacher training kicks in and we look briefly at the three main learning styles;
In a nutshell, it’s what it says on the tin. Visual learners learn best by watching, auditory learners through listening, and kinesthetic learners through doing.
I can almost hear my past lecturers and colleagues yelling “It’s not as simple as that, David!” They’d be right, of course. These learning styles often crossover in many people in various combinations, and ultimately everybody takes in information in their own way. It’s rare that anybody favours one learning style entirely above the others. Knowing how you as an individual learn best can be a great tool when it comes to your approach to research.
I began my research by finding documentaries on YouTube and iPlayer that pertain to the individuals I wished to learn about. Making time to watch/listen to them isn’t as difficult as you may think. I found I took in a great deal from having them play while I was dealing with a mountain of ironing, or indeed relaxing in the bath. Doing the washing up is another good time to have them on, as it can be surprising what useful nuggets of information seep in while you’re focused on a daily task.
Obviously this is not a substitute for more extensive research, but it is a good way to manage your time effectively and help you decide what to focus on. If it hadn’t been for the documentaries I’d listened to while scrubbing lasagna remnants from my plate, I might never have decided to purchase a copy of ‘The Prince’ by Niccolò Machiavelli as my first text of choice on the subject of power. This gradual and well managed approach to research has allowed me to focus better rather than just diving in blindly to a text book that may prove to be of little or no use.
In this particular case, researching the origins of various tyrants warrants caution and moderation. I’ve been dipping into the mindsets and actions of the likes of Caligula, Gengis Kahn and Stalin so far, and at this point dipping is all that’s recommended. Dive in the deep end too quickly and you may not be able to come up for air.
So, there you have it folks. My little guide to managing your research time. I do hope it’s proved useful. Now, do please excuse me, I’m off to muse on the pursuit of power as seen by a 16th century Italian diplomat considered by many to be the personification of evil.
Wish me luck!