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Before we begin, practice healthy creative habits: Clear your space of clutter, set aside some time to focus and spend 2-3 minutes doing your Daily Free Writing before you begin. See Lesson 2 for more about DFW.

Using Research in Your Book

Now that you’ve gone through your book and looked at research opportunities, are there any trends? For example:

– Is there a large historically-based backstory? Perhaps this will become a story element where you trace parallel stories– your main characters juxtaposed against the historical narrative.
-Are you talking about a specific location/country throughout the book? Could you have the exploration of that place as a story element? Or if it’s multiple locations, can you focus the same aspect across locations (like a food theme, for example).
-Do you keep making notes about research studies? If you’re writing about happiness, could the history of happiness research be a story element, culminating in the most current research?
-Are your characters experts? Could this be a theme as they escape the Zombie hoard, that you explore wilderness survival techniques throughout the book, taking extra time to describe the practicalities?

Or more importantly, is there an area you’re interested in exploring more?

Why is This Element Important?

If you’re writing a non-fiction how-to book, this kind of detail will already be there. But I think you’ll find that many of the books you love have meticulously researched aspects. Game of Thrones is a fiction book, but the author, George RR Martin, has chosen to explore the weaponry, social structures and battle techniques ripped straight from the history books. Jon Krakauer has built an entire career on taking each and every little question in his books and following the thread until there’s some kind of answer.

In previous lessons we’ve looked at choosing a main story driver: character, event, universe or idea. Now we’re going to choose a way to bring in research:

1. Research about the places /events / people we’re writing about (Direct research)
2. Research about the background of the places / events / people we’re writing about (Historical research)
3. Research about the technical aspects of something the characters do–like learning all there is to know about tug boats at the turn of the century for your southern fiction book set in 1902. (Technical research)
4. Research about the science of how something works. (Scientific research)
5. Case studies and/or interviews from experts in your field. (Expert research)

One of these elements should be in your book. You’ve taken a look at your outline and pulled out all the places where you could add in more details. Now take a look at those trends and decide what kind of information would work best with your book.

You’ve also created chapter summaries with notes about the main storyline. Today we’re going to take our research thread and create a micro outline for just that element. For example:

Bilingual Research:

-When did bilingual research start? (1990s)

-What changed? (fMRI)

-Does language change cognition? (No, although chicken/egg scenario)

-Does language change the way we think? (Yes, but perhaps minor–ex: Greeks had no word for blue)

-Is it impossible to learn a language after a certain age? (Yes, but the brain does change in childhood, so native-like fluency isn’t possible, but functional near-native-like fluency is–you’ll probably have an accent).

-How do kids learn languages? (Yes, see breakdown of the timeline)

-What is it like to live with two languages? (Code switching and biculturalism)

and so on…

Write every question you can think of and notes on the answers (I would do some light research here, because some topics open up once you read more about them and lead to more questions). We want an exhaustive list of exploring this topic.

THEN:

Look at that list for themes. For my fake bilingualism thread above, I might say my themes are: Bilingualism and Cognition, Language Learning, Bilingual Kids and Living as a Bilingual. This is my thread. I am not going to have bilingualism in every chapter but I know that in the beginning I’m going to talk about Bilingualism and Cognition, then before the middle I’ll be into Language Learning. I am still writing a fiction or non-fiction book that has NOTHING to do with bilingualism per se. But it’s a theme for my book, so I’m going to weave it into my book, with a full understanding of what I’m trying to cover, even though it may not be obvious to the reader.

How Do You Weave?

Now it’s time to marry together your research thread and your current outline. Depending on the type of book you’re writing, these themes can be handled in different ways:

– You weave it into your descriptions. “The Weaver House, built in 1922 by the same immigrants that crossed the Atlantic just six years ago…”
– You merely let it inform your writing. If you’re writing a zombie book with a heavy survivalist thread, you might just create a progression of skills your characters will master, as the story progresses. You’re not giving a lecture, it’s just plot points you’re making.
-You let one of your characters be the expert.
-If you’re writing a how-to book, it might just be sidebars in each chapter. “Did you know….”

This is a two-day assignment:

-Go through your research list.
-Find themes.
-Choose one area to expand.
-Create a mini-outline for that thread with all the questions you’ll research about it.
-Group those questions into a couple of ideas (like my Bilingualism and Cognition example above).
-Update your outline with a new item in appropriate chapters. You can just write a note in the card for that chapter about the Research Thread you want to purse in the course of writing it. Remember you don’t have to solve all the problems of integrating this research with your narrative. It’s more like a post-it note to your future self so you don’t forget to weave in these secondary elements.

I might have something like this, in my fictional travel memoir:

Chapter 1: Start
Chapter 2: Egypt
Chapter 3: Lebanon
RESEARCH THREAD: Bilingualism and Cognition
Chapter 4: Dubai
RESEARCH THREAD:Language Learning
Chapter 5: Japan
Chapter 6: Thailand
RESEARCH THREAD:Bilingual Kids
Chapter 7: Mexico
RESEARCH THREAD:Living as a Bilingual
Chapter 8: Home

Now when I get to write this, I may have to do additional research but I’ll also have to decide how to write this topic in. Perhaps I think of examples of things that happened in Thailand that illustrate my main points about bilingual kids and use it to transition into the current studies. Or maybe I meet or interview an expert in each place on that topic. Or maybe I just weave it into my descriptions. The main point is to think through the entire arc for the research thread you want to include and to make sure you cover it all, do it in an organized manner and keep it even (no front loading all the research into chapter 1).

This is a big assignment so you have 48 hours. Go!