Christopher D. Ochs is this month featured author. Christopher D. Ochs‘ foray into writing began with his epic fantasy Pindlebryth of Lenland: The Five Artifacts, recommended by US Review of Books. Several of his short stories have been published in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Bethlehem Writers Group anthologies and websites. His latest work is a collection of mirthful macabre short stories, If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.
His current literary projects include: short stories in Firebringer Press’ next entry in their Eternity anthology series, an e-book prequel novella for Pindlebryth of Lenland, a YA speculative fiction novel My Friend Jackson, and of course, the second novel of the Pindlebryth saga.
Chris has too many interests outside of writing for his own good. With previous careers in physics, mathematics, electrical engineering and software, and his incessant dabblings as a CGI animator, classical organist, voice talent on radio, DVD and anime conventions, it’s a wonder he can remember to pay the dog and feed his bills. Wait, what?
The Joy of Research – “Research?” The very word sends some people diving for the nearest foxhole, or leaves them with an expression akin to that of having swallowed castor oil.
Not me – I’ve always enjoyed learning new topics. It’s even better as an author, because my research is focused on that which I’m already interested. (An unfortunate side-effect is that my mind is filled with decades of clutter and trivia that cries for attention at inopportune moments!)
Method – For better or worse, here’s my approach to the task of research.
I begin my journey with that miasma of questionable reliability – the internet. Its convenience outweighs its pitfalls, so long as one uses it solely to gain general knowledge and build a list of potential authoritative sources. My usual go-to stepping-stones are Wikipedia followed by Google. At the risk of repeating myself, I only use them to suss out general information and pointers to refine the scope of my search.
My second level involves confirming any suspect information against a trustworthy online encyclopedia (e.g. Britannica) or reliable fact-checking sites (e.g. Snopes, Factcheck, Politifact, etc.)
Once I have a clear vision of topics on which to focus, I head to the library. Yes, Dear Reader, in this electronic world, there is still no substitute for paper. That’s just the Facts of Life. Not everything is available on-line, and that often includes the book you need.
Examples – Over the past two years, I’ve published nineteen short stories in various venues. While most were “speculative fiction,” they nonetheless covered a broad range of topics, characters and backgrounds, locales and eras. As an author, I have a responsibility to inject a reasonable level of verisimilitude into my Tales of the Weird – otherwise the story fails miserably. When said story leads me into an area where I have little experience, I hit the books – with relish!
Allow me to relay two recent experiences that demonstrate my own “joy of research.”
While searching for a description of the environment of a tuberculosis sanitorium, I selected Betty MacDonald’s memoir “The Plague and I.” To get the lowdown on girl bullying, a librarian friend recommended “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman.
In both instances, deadlines and other pressures force me to approach the research in a rush. My original intention was to hastily skim one or two chapters and glean the absolute minimum for a believable story. However, in both instances I ended up devouring the books cover to cover. The narrative of MacDonald’s battle with tuberculosis was so compelling, and the content of Wiseman’s research into the dynamics and psychology of teenage girl bullies was so captivating, that I couldn’t put either of the books down.
I believe my stories were the better for it – if I had hurried through the work, I would have missed much of the minutiae needed to flesh out my own characters, and imbue them with realistic motivations and reactions.
Caution – With all that being said, writers should not use research as an excuse to avoid writing.
During my time in the world of engineering, I often encountered the phrase “the paralysis of analysis.” The same is true in the writing world. An author must resist the temptation to dive down the endless rabbit hole of related topics and “what-if’s.” Otherwise, the writing is never started.
Do your initial block of research, enough to get the draft done. Then polish the draft with refined research, tracking down only those “what-if’s” that the story and characters dictate.
Now get thee to a library!
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