At this year’s Marscon (March 2-4,2018), I moderated a panel discussion on resources for speculative fiction writers. I’ll share a bit of our discussion here to tide you over as I prepare several posts (which will all be tagged and available under the resources link in the main menu) with links to tools and essays that may be of use to writers (especially those who write fantasy, science fiction, and horror).
The questions below are some I asked my panelists. The answers are a summary of the collective discussion. Huge thanks to Kathryn Sullivan, Naomi Kritzer, and Ozgur K. Sahin, who are always excellent to talk shop with.
Q: How often do you come up with story ideas that are too good to pass up, but you lack some of the know-how needed to do it justice?
A: In speculative fiction this is pretty common. Sometimes it’s just a small detail here or there that we need (a street name in France, or the cost of rum in 1640). In other cases, we need a better understanding of a specialized branch of science (cellular structure of northern Wisconsin moss that can most readily converts to biochemical weapon use).
Several of us have fully sidelined stories or story ideas because we didn’t have and couldn’t get the information we needed. We may come back to these in time, but often these are fully abandoned as unsalvageable.
Q: What research techniques have been recommended to you, that you have NOT found useful?
A: Contacting university professors who are experts in your topic generally does not go well. Unless you actually know the professor, or have someone make an introduction, these cold calls for interviews and requests information are often ignored and e-mails go unanswered. These folks are often busy, especially if the subject matter is highly specialized.
What may work better is to reach out to your group of friends to see if any of them know an expert they can introduce you to. When sending out this kind of request on social media, be sure to preface it with an explanation that you’re doing book research. And be prepared for some of your helpful friends to try to help you fix a perceived problem rather than connecting you to a knowledgeable person.
Q: How do you avoid leaping down the rabbit hole of possibilities when doing story research?
A: While it’s not always a good idea to run down every path you find, it’s a good thing to allow yourself to do once in a while. Everything we read, view, or hear has the potential to feed a story or idea later on, even if it’s not what you need right now. Give yourself the time to just play with all the possibilities when you can.
If you’re under a rapidly approaching deadline or are short on time, timers can be handy (either on your desktop or your phone) to remind you to stay on task and get back to your project.
Check out my other research and resources for writers posts here.