Research vs. Networking

Science fiction isn’t the easiest genre to write. Because, science.

While sci fi authors don’t have to data-dump all of a world’s wacky rules and wobbly physics into each book, the author has to at least know how it works.  In my definition, science fiction needs to have a scientific reasoning behind extraordinary events (as opposed to a magical Fantasy reasoning).   While many science fiction authors are educated individuals with fairly good ideas of how science works, many of us are not scientists.

This means that at some point, we’re going to have to find something out.

Research – the Cons, and one Pro

I’ve done research. I’ve done mind-numbing research online, in actual libraries and with actual books. I’ve read books about vaccines and how they work.  I’ve taken coursera classes.  And you know what I can tell you about research?  Two things:

  1. It takes a long time. Time I’d rather be writing
  2. It can be a hell of a rabbit-hole

In 2004, back when I dusted off the first stories about the world where Salvaged is set, I did some of this research. I ended up suffering what I call “Research paralysis.”  The problem with researching these things is that I only wanted to know the answers to a few questions. I had information overload and no way to synthesize the data into meaningful material.  It was a pile of TMI and buried treasure.

The one pro that I will give to DIY research is that it sometimes opens up new ideas, new paths of discovery, and new things that can heighten and add to your books.  The experts know down to the year when the new flu pandemic will hit, BAM! I suddenly had a starting date for my story!  I’d never have had that without hunkering down with a book about viruses.

Networking – The Pros, and one Con

I’ve found that I can circumvent research paralysis by pinging experts in given fields.  It just so happens that I’m a pretty smart cookie.  It follows logically that many of my friends and associates are also smart cookies.  Wouldn’t you know it? Many of my smart cookie friends are experts in areas that I know nothing about!   I can shoot them a message on facebook and ask one very cogent question. It takes them 30 seconds to reply.  Boo-yah.  One-minute research.  I’m that good.

For Salvaged, my expert panel of experts included:

  • My husband – who has a Masters Degree in Psychology and who is currently a Paramedic.  I can ask him everything from how this emotionally damaged character might respond to given stimuli to what happens if this character gets shot…. here? Can she use her arm? No? What about here?   (My husband is very patient, and oddly always knows when I’m writing fight scenes.)
  • The guy from HS that I went on one double date with but we were too shy to talk to each other the whole time. Remember him?  He now does statistical modeling and consulting for the WHO and the CDC. Useful dude to be facebook friends with when it comes time to ask questions….
  • Journalists who have worked for CNN and WebMD and reported health threats for years.
  • And many many more….  (I’d tell you, but it would give away the ending).

What’s the con of asking for expert opinions when you’re writing? Well, they aren’t always available. I can text my husband while he’s at work on the night shift, but he might be working a call.  I can email that dude on his flight to Geneva, but you know, he’s got to talk to the WHO people, and I’m small potatoes.

Fellow Writers: Where do you stand? Research? Or hunt down a pro?

3 thoughts on “Research vs. Networking

  1. With my current WIP, a fantasy that has to do with dowsing for water, I took the “consult an expert” route and got my dad’s friend to take me witching for water. I’ve also been working on a book about a girl warrior, and gotten my husband and his friend to teach me some broadsword stuff. So I find that I like to ask an expert who will let me try stuff out on my own. I guess you don’t want to do that with a pandemic. 😉

    • Nooooooo I’ll stick to statistics. Though I’ve had the flu, so that helps. In terms of the fighting and experiential stuff if I can DO it I will certainly prefer that. I describe things so much better when I have a physical memory to go from. But apocalypses are so hard to do in miniature.

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