Make Research a Regular Part of Your Writing Practice

What do the following books have in common:
  • Dinner with a Cannibal
  • A Natural History of the Senses
  • Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game
  • The Human Experiment: Inside Biosphere 2
  • Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
  • Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, our Bodies – and What it Means to be Human
  • The SAS Survival Guide
  • The Gift of Fear
Answer: They are some of my favorite research books.
There are many more, but these are the ones I leaned on heavily in the creation of UNDER THE NEVER SKY. I’ve found everything from minor details to major world-building ideas within the pages of the above books.
The best kind of research is the kind that feels effortless. It’s searching for information that excites you—that spurs ideas and makes you hungry to write. None of the books above were a chore to read. In fact, the process of reading and consulting these books has continued as I write the second book in the NEVER SKY trilogy. I dip into them often, scanning a few pages, reminding myself of the passages I noted.
I keep a stack of research books on my nightstand. DEEP SURVIVAL by Laurence Gonzales is currently at the top of the pile. This book is dog-eared and peppered with highlighted passages. I adore this book. I bought it up because I knew I’d be writing a story about survivors. My characters are people who regularly face life and death situations. Seeking to reconnect with that, I picked it up recently and randomly turned to a page. I found this underlined passage:
“Killip had entered the final stage that separates the quick from the dead: not helpless resignation but a pragmatic acceptance of—even wonder at—the world in which he found himself… He had discovered the first Rule of Life: Be here now.”
Give me a minute as I do back-flips over the awesomeness of that bit of insight.
Knowing this—knowing that the people who live in dire situations are those who can accept and move on—gives me a fantastic window into how my characters will react in those moments. Those are the kinds of nuggets a research book can give you. An idea. The perfect detail. The right lens through which to view a situation.
Setting fiction aside completely, how wonderful is it to be reminded: Be here now?
For me, research is an ongoing practice. It’s that daily 30 minutes of aerobic exercise for your mind. It’s a reminder of the vastness and complexity of the human experience. A way to tap into all the million little details that make life interesting and rich. You can only benefit by bringing some of that into your fiction.
Dinner with a Cannibal: The Complete History of Mankind's Oldest Taboo
(Yes, I really do own this book.)
(And yes, it's quite informative and interesting.)


LOVE your choice of reading material, V! And thank you for recommending The Gift of Fear -- it was on my research pile, too!

Such a great thing to remind us, that there are loads of books out there to help us through our writing journeys.

You've got some great suggestions!

Thanks Katy and Deana! Research is one of the best parts of the journey, isn't it?

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