To boldly go…and all that.
Why research? Well, because unless you know the subject you’re writing about really well (or you’re completely making it up), there’s going to be something you don’t know. Today I wrote a story about a bunch of astronomers studying the birth of a star, so I went and looked up solar flares and the structure of stars and all that. I learned that supernovas form a lot of the new stars you see out there.
As much as I’ve come to hate Wikipedia from the editor’s point of view, as a researcher it’s a fair place to start. The links at the bottom are often the best part of the page, and take you to where the real meaty things are. Also, if you just need a very general understanding of a complex scientific idea, the page might just be what you need. Don’t rely on it too heavily for something important, though, because sometimes what’s written there is utter crap.
Google is one site you need to learn how to work your way around. If you’re not familiar with how it works, a few hours poking around is well worth it. This post from an IT librarian is great when you’re trying to find something really obscure on Google.
As you go along, you’ll run across a host of links that you find particularly useful for the kinds of stories you like to write. Save them. I tend to write thrillers and SF, so I have a bunch of police/FBI/science/space exploration links. Other people might have other kinds of links. It’s okay to share. Another reason to find good blogs by other writers, especially those in your genre.
If you all are interested, I’ll post some of the links I have. Just let me know what sort of thing interests you–I have more links than I would want to just dump onto a single post.
Once you’ve done your writing and research, you might still have questions. What then? You might have to ask an expert. I mentioned earlier talking with a physicist about some aspects of a story that I had no clue about. If you’re polite, do your homework, and don’t overwhelm them with too many questions, most people are happy to help an author. Just make sure you keep track of who you ask so you can acknowledge their help when the book comes out. 😉
Researching stories has taught me so much, and not just sterile facts. I’ve made friends I never would have otherwise, and have changed the way I look at things by what I’ve learned. I’d say it’s one of the most fun things about writing, besides actually writing.
So what are you researching?