Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day September 13, 2012 - 7:06pm

I've never really bothered but I'm thinking I should try it before I start work on another story. My get-the-ball-rolling process usually goes: start with an idea for a character, develop a solid opening image, decide on a general direction for the story, and (sometimes) decide how I want it to end. But sometimes I lose steam and/or focus somewhere in the middle, and I'm wondering if having a decent amount of material in note-form at the outset would be prudent.

So, do you take notes, and, if so, what kind/how detailed?

Amloki's picture
Amloki from Singapore is reading Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks September 13, 2012 - 11:57pm

I never take notes with short stories, I am a pantser. I would do a bit of writing in the character's voice though, just to figure out who he or she is-- and I tend to do this for all the characters.

But I write literary short stories, and genre stories might be different. The one crime story I've written so far, (and it has been accepted for publication) took me about 10 drafts to get to the meat of the story-- and I had a feeling I should've done some notes/ research beforehand.

Edited to add:

I just realized that my note here came off as if I don't do any research at all, which isn't true. I begin with an image or a phrase and start writing and get it to some sort of ending-- at this juncture only the character matters. Most of the times, I do not know enough about the setting or about some kind of action, and then I'll just say TBR (To be researched) and move on. Once I have a draft and I can see the gaping holes, I begin my research, and keep at it till I have what the story needs. Then the story changes with the re-writes. For novels however (which I'm new at,) it is a totally different story.

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books September 13, 2012 - 7:49pm

Not for shorts, no. Although sometimes research leads me to an idea for a short story.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland September 13, 2012 - 7:52pm

As you know by now Nick I spent hours researching a line of dialect for a marginal character in a flash piece. I think I research way too much. But, I always start with plot, then come my characters. I have my idea and I write until I find out where I'm going.  My character developement needs work, but I have been working on it. I feel it's easier to write the situation first, then write a character and discover how he will react to that situation. Then in edits and revision shape the character accordingly. Hope this helps.


Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs September 13, 2012 - 9:21pm


Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day September 13, 2012 - 9:45pm

@ Bradley:

"...and, if so, what kind/how detailed?"

La Emme Nikita's picture
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La Emme Nikita from Los Angeles is reading The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson September 13, 2012 - 10:12pm

My stories tend to start as ideas which are later fleshed out. I try to take notes down as the ideas for plot/dialogue/characters/setting come up, but this probably happens only half the time.Even then those notes are only enough to remind me of what I'd been thinking. My short stories are generally off-the-cuff and composed in one sitting.

Accuracy is important to me and I did have to do some research prior to composing my most recent story. My initial idea was a setting in Australia during winter with heavy snowfall, and the story was about a girl who has just moved there with her father, who is in shipping. Research yielded: Melbourne is a major port, and best bet; little to no snow. Dammit. Had to find a different snowy port, and did so in Japan (which is my area of expertise so it worked out). Had I done it without any research the story still would have been good, but would have lost any sense of authenticity.

In the end it's up to you. The piece Jonathan refers to is s good example; I like the inclusion of local dialect in the piece, and appreciated that he researched in earnest rather than just trying to ignorantly create something that might approximate it.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs September 13, 2012 - 11:22pm

It varies. Sometimes it involves watching lots of movies rather than reading. For instance, I was recently asked to write a story that's a parody of a men's adventure book from the the 70's or 80's (along with making up a persona for the story's imaginary author). It's for a website and the editor linked me to a story he wrote for it so I could familize myself with what he was looking for. So I read that considering I've never read a men's adventure novel, although I saw a movie adaption of one when I was about 12 (Reno Williams: The Adventure Begins).

And then I read an interview with the editor where he talked about his online publication and he said this: " "I really like the idea of a writer that wants to be the first person to feature a Hispanic hero or a tough female heroine but, when he does so, incorporates all the worst stereotypes and caricatures in his portrayal."

So I thought that was awesome and I wanted to do the same thing with a gay hero. So I came up with the idea of a leather daddy going mano-to-mano with Russian mobsters because they took over his favorite bathhouse. And since I know little about leather daddies, I did a bit of research online about them. Even though the writer who I'm pretending to be is supposed to be ignorant since I think it will be easier to make ignorance-related jokes if I actually know what's going on. And last night, I watched Eastern Promises again do refresh my memory about Russian mobsters.

So that's for a story. There's often a lot more involved when I'm writing a book.

I don't really research for the sake of accuracy. It's to add richness to the story.

Just remembered this. Here's some research notes I wrote long ago for my next book that's being published:

GaryP's picture
GaryP from Denver is reading a bit of this and that September 14, 2012 - 5:43am

I almost always just start writing from an idea (wouldn't it be cool if....). I almost always get stuck in the plotting, at which point, if I still like the idea, I start brainstorming/brainmapping to work out the plot, either in a notebook or online, depending on my mood.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore September 14, 2012 - 6:39am

Notes/outlining/researching in advance will definitely help when you hit the wall in the middle of the story. But it will also delay you from getting started on it, if you're one of those people who's driven by the excitement of an initial idea. I research before writing anything, because that's the only way I can tell the story with confidence. Sometimes that means none at all, but I find myself doing more and more of it in an effort to branch out and sound more credible on a wider range of topics. Stopping to do research in the middle of a story, though—while it may be necessary sometimes—can turn into a wheel-spinning exercise that's more about procrastination than progress.

Stacy Kear's picture
Stacy Kear from Bucyrus, Ohio lives in New Jersey is reading The Art of War September 14, 2012 - 6:58am

I research, I think it helps with head authority for a character and can make or break a story in some cases. I read a story completely based on being a lifeguard and being obsessed with saving someone who is dying. Come to find out he had only researched CPR so entire scenes were written around erroneous and just ignorance regarding life guarding techniques and it ruined the story. Some of the material that was wrong were pivotal to the plot line. Knowing enough about life guarding I knew what was wrong but did the research for him just to help. Above and beyond. :-) 

Story I am currently writing involves a girl with Aspergers and Greek mythology. I have had to do a shit ton of research.

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters September 14, 2012 - 6:59am

Stacy - I want to read that story.  Keep me posted.

Stacy Kear's picture
Stacy Kear from Bucyrus, Ohio lives in New Jersey is reading The Art of War September 14, 2012 - 7:00am

@ Avery will do 

JonnyGibbings's picture
JonnyGibbings September 14, 2012 - 9:01am

VERY little. I'm working on a sex addict group as the lever for deviant behaviour. That leads to what I'm calling 'Colly-Dogging', dogging at an oncology ward. Where women with terminal cancers etc put out to kill the boredom of ward life with deviants. It isn't the plot, just a lever to make other things happen. I thought about going to a support group, but things seem better in my head. I'm never going to Mars, but could write a yard about it. So far I've just looked up anecdotal info from web sites.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore September 14, 2012 - 9:49am

Pre-Google, I didn't know what oncology was, and every day I'd drive past a hospital entrance sign for it, thinking, "It must be the study of being on call" (oncol). Post-Google, everyone knows everything. In many ways, it's not as fun anymore.

Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day September 14, 2012 - 9:53am

@ Gordon I thought I was the only one who had made that mistake...

I had another thread on whether the internet is making "head" authority obsolete, since as you point out everyone knows everything now.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. September 14, 2012 - 9:55am

I research in the middle of the story, it seems.  I get my opening and characters set up, then I start looking into the things I think they would be experts on (I'm of the opinion that every character should 'think' they are an expert on some subject - I see this a lot in real life).  After that, a lot of the middle of the story will write itself (although I do go back and give some head authority to the characters from the start).

So I write the start, research, write the middle, rewrite the starting, and then write the ending.  Not always like that, but sometimes.

David G's picture
David G September 15, 2012 - 5:19pm

It's funny I came across this thread. I want to begin working on a short story I've had in my head for years and have been debating about doing some kind of research/note making about the characters and so forth. Lots of great advice. Thanks.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks September 16, 2012 - 11:04am

One thing I learned early and that assuages my nerves about writing is that if you present yourself as knowledgable, they will believe you. I realized when I was in middle school that literally anyone would trust me if I talked about cars. It wasn't because I knew anything about them, it was because my dad was a mechanic and everyone knew that I worked in his body shop after school as a "secretary." Just by my proximity, they assumed that I was an expert on cars. It really rattled me because I knew literally nothing. I still can't tell you a damn thing about cars, but even die-hard car lovers from my class accepted my bullshit rambling (done to test my theory) as fact.

So if you present yourself as an expert, and someone doesn't know much or feels inadequate in their knowledge, faking it works. I wouldn't suggest it, but it's one less thing to worry about. Knowledge doesn't have to be 100% complete. If I want to write a story about a mechanic, it's enough that I know the little details, like that their tools rarely match if they've been working since they were young, because they collected the tools as they needed them and bought the ones they could afford at the moment they were necessary -- so unless I need a huge section about the way the car works, the knowledge I have is sufficient and it seems like I've "done my research."

Robbie Deau's picture
Robbie Deau from Seminole.Florida is reading Doomed September 17, 2012 - 2:17am

Whenever I am writing a short story or writing passages for my book project I always put in research hours.  One of the last things I would want is to have false or no background information on said topic.

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner September 20, 2012 - 1:22pm

I start with a sentence, let the story spill out freestyle for a bit, not always consciously thinking genre - and then I start researching on the fly or in the edit. Dunno if this works! ;)

swordfighter's picture
swordfighter September 22, 2012 - 11:28am

hi all, hope you all are having a good day!

I do all most no research in my fist draft I want to get it out of my head and on to paper. I do most of my research between the 1st and 2nd drafts.

I'm using my first draft as my out line. The 2nd draft  which will be writing the story. (1st draft 76,000 words)

I make notes along the way to remind me what to do research on. (this is my 1st novel and think I will do this on rest of my novels)




bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. September 23, 2012 - 8:56am

I forgot about doing that. In one story I wrote, I just put (details about her motorcycle) in the text so that I could go back and put in a bit of 'head' authority after researching.

I didn't want researching to slow down the story I was writing.