Research before writing a book in the Internet era

Anyone who has ever tried their hand at creative writing knows that, at least in theory, before going in front of the white paper, it is necessary to do careful research about the settings, the period described and subject matter in order to create a story that is as realistic as possible, but also to have additional elements to enrich it and make it interesting to the reader.

The professional writers carry out researches in different ways. Some move for a few weeks to the places where their story will take place, others read books on the topics covered in it, and still others interview experts. There are a thousand different ways to do a research. All these inputs, in addition to ensuring a certain mastery of the subject, stimulate the imagination and allow you to develop the story beyond the initial idea.

Certainly doing research in this way can sometimes be expensive. The writer who does not navigate in gold, whether professional or not, often cannot afford to travel the world, does not have the opportunity to meet experts and so on, even for the simple fact that they do not have the time for it (and even time is money).
In the past, however, things were even worse. The writers most of the time were forced to narrate stories related to things they know well or where they lived or based on what they could find after hours and hours of reading in the library, since the possibility to access other information was prohibitive to say the least. And who decided to ignore these limits was forced to rely on their imagination, assuming they had a really vivid one. Just think of
Emilio Salgari, who described in his books those vivid and engaging distant places that he had never seen. His approach was similar to that of the current writers of a certain kind of fantasy and science fiction, arriving literally to create new worlds that they master completely, which prevents them to make huge researches.

But, since the days of Salgari, writers now, whether super-amateurs or bestselling authors, can rely on immediately accessible sources at any time, thanks to the greatest invention of the last decades: Internet.
Now, if we want to obtain information about a topic, we look for it on Google or go directly to Wikipedia, if we want to see a place where we have never been, we rely on Google Maps and Google Earth. In some cases they even allow us to move through the streets of a city and see the details, as if we were there. Or we visit YouTube where we find many videos of documentaries discussing various topics or again, if we need a certain book, we can buy an e-book in just a few clicks. And if we do not have much money to spend, we just rely on the dear eMule (or torrent application), to find what we need, breaking some copyright law.
In short, we have no excuse.

Almost everything is within our reach. This, however, completely changes the approach that we have before a search. We can always do it the old way: reading, watching videos, looking at photos and so on and creating notes, perhaps using little programs like OneNote (or free ones) that will allow us to copy text, images, links, and organize them easily, to find all that when we are in need.

Or we have another choice. We can begin to put in writing, perhaps after some little preliminary research (such as reading a book, an article or watching a documentary, just to get into the subject and capture that particular emotion from which each story takes life) and then, from time to time, when the need arises, we can look for what we need directly when we need it. With a permanent connection to the Internet we just have to keep open a browser together with the writing application and easily switch between them, keeping that emotion always alive and at the same time feeding it with all those immediate inputs, the result of which we can now put pen to paper without fearing that the big idea is lost, because we were not able to fix it as soon as we have come up with it.

This approach is surely not methodical and at first glance it might seem confusing, it is actually based in all respects on the way our memory works, that is associatively, going from one thing to another, rather than linearly.
No doubt the use of such a method requires a certain discipline and mastery of your own means. It is extremely easy to get distracted and start browsing, thus forgetting what we were writing. On the other hand, if you are able to apply it properly, it gives the chance to dive right into the narrative, avoiding the risk that a particular emotion (the so-called inspiration), once every research is done and the plot is organized in every retail, vanishes into thin air, before having been able to take advantage of what was our only purpose, that is, writing.

And if this real-time search leads us to make some mistakes?

Well, what’s the problem? Our words certainly were not etched in stone, but not even on paper. Once the draft is complete, when we are certain that we have fixed all that is running through our minds, there remains all the time in the world to check, correct and change what we have written, whenever we want.

This article is also available in Italian on Anakina.Net.