1000 Pages of Research Equals Two Pages of Story!

voices from the graveI just finished reading the 480 page book, Voices from the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland, by Ed Moloney. This book includes extensive interviews of two key players during the troubles in Northern Ireland from 1969 to the peace agreement: Brendan Hughes of the Irish Republican Army and David Ervine, member of the Ulster Volunteer Force. It was a hefty read with lots of names and dates and recounting of incidents of violence on both sides. I appreciated the section about Bobbie Sands and the Hunger Strikes of 1981, something I remember from my youth but had since forgotten. Overall the book has given me a greater appreciation for the complexity of the fighting in Northern Ireland and the difficulty attaining a peace accord.

Even though the part of my book that is set in North Ireland is from 1945 to 1952, it still provides helpful information. I read it specifically for the first fifty pages which gave background information about the conflict, and generally in order to have a better understanding of North Ireland today. You never know what detail may end up being useful in writing. It is just one part of my research for my next book, An Irish Slip Step.

I love research. When researching papers in college, I would read far and wide, picking up any books I thought relevant to the topic of the paper. I wouldn’t take notes until I had a better idea what I was going to write. All of the reading was in preparation for honing down the idea into a manageable paper. It helped give me an overall sense of what was important and true before trying to write the paper. I also tried to get varying viewpoints.

I find myself doing the same when writing novels. I’ve been reading extensively on Ireland and North Ireland. The vast majority of what I read will not find a place in my novel, but it helps to inform my mindset for writing. I believe that all of the material will find a place in my brain and help me in making choices about characters, setting and actions in the book. The more I know about Ireland, the more it will inform my book even if I don’t reference the majority of the material. It will just comes through by “osmosis”. 🙂

Besides this book on the troubles, I’ve read a couple of histories, a book on Celtic spirituality, and numerous articles on the web. I’ve easily read 1,000 pages so far. I’m awaiting the arrival of a book on Belfast dock workers after World War II that is being sent to me. I’m thinking one of my characters may be a dock worker!

I never know what little tidbit of knowledge will be important as a scene develops. That’s why I read widely. Details are so important in developing a setting or character so I try to get the details rights. And when I run into trouble, I have a cousin through marriage in Northern Ireland to help me with her insights and memories.

I don’t know exactly how this book will end up. I’m still in the process of writing it. I have a general direction and outcome in mind but how I get there is yet to be determined. At some point the research will stop and the book will be done, but until then, I continue to read everything I find on Belfast after World War II, as well as information on American GIs after WWII.

I usually have a sense of when I have enough information to proceed. I like to think God will lead me in the right direction as I seek out information, and so I go wherever the Spirit takes me in my research.

How do you research your writing? Are you organized or haphazard?  

 

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