Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Glories, and Perils, of Research

What Is Thriller Guy Reading?

Out last month from Tor, Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice teaming up again with Red Dragon Rising: Shadows of War. This is military adventure at its finest. There's little time wasted on complex characterization or scene setting, instead the authors cut straight to the action. It's 2014, gas in the US costs $14.39 a gallon and the recession continues unabated. China decides to invade Vietnam then take over the rest of Asia; the US has to step in to save the world. In no time at all the missiles, bombs and bullets are flying. If you're interested in the genre, these guys are among the best.

AJ Update.

As a reminder or for first-time viewers, TG is shepherding a first-time novelist, AJ, as he begins a thriller. Here's a sliver of his comment on the blog below: “Part of what does slow me down is the tons of research I find myself diving into on every little aspect of the story. There are some procedural things that I needed to find out, which makes other questions come up, which leads to new ideas, etc.”

TG loves doing research for a novel. The subject is always a place, time or concept that he's interested in, so what can beat whiling away hours on the Internet, in bookstores and libraries? Nothing. Certainly not writing, the painful act of putting words on paper. TG's suggestion is to do a small amount of research while you're getting your concept together, making sure things will work, then doing your outline to get the story down, go back and do any specific research you need for your first several chapters and then START WRITING. Everyone's schedule is different, but if you've got all day to write, a solid four hours in the morning, followed by a couple of hours rewriting what you did the day before followed by another couple of hours of research is a good day's work. A ratio of 4:2:2. If you're squeezing the writing in around a day job, try to stick with the ratio, even though your time will be shorter; splitting the various aspects up over several days if need be.

Research will suggest new lines of attack, new plot twists, new characters and sometimes entirely new directions. It is (usually) wise to follow these leads; beware of thinking that because it means going back and rewriting what has already been written to make the new material fit, that it will be too much work and not be worth it. This is a mistake. Plots, characters and concepts grow because they are fed new material, either from your own brain where you make it up or from outside sources. Research, in other words. You will be amazed how your book will grow from what you will come to see as the paltry, spindly little thing it was when it was first conceived, to the big, strong bruiser it will become when it is finished.

Another Useful Book.

At the other end of the spectrum from Zuckerman's, How to Write the Blockbuster Novel is the newly published, Talking About Detective Fiction, By P.D. James. TG has not had the time to read this, but it's obviously going to have some good stuff in it. Everything that P.D. James writes has good stuff in it. Perhaps some kind soul out there might find a copy of this and review it for us on these pages? For a look at the first chapter, go here.