Monday Method: This is My Brain on Research

Thought I’d just give you a (not-too-scary) glimpse into my favorite research technique these days. And not just favorite because it involves a comfy couch and books. Remember, this is the research I’m doing to help figure out my characters, what they want (which means figuring out what is possible, probable, and/or dream-worthy in 1911), and what they might usefully do to further my plot. This is not the research for filling in details about how many hospital beds were in a ward or what kind of fruit you could buy at a market. That stuff I’ll find out while I’m writing. This is instead the research I really feel like I have to do before I dig deeply into the 2nd draft.

To proceed:

Step 1. Pick a topic, based either on character-development, setting for a scene, or a virtual dart toss, because I could pick any one of a dozen paths to follow.

Step 2. Start to browse the web for articles and books.

Step 3. Realize I probably HAVE some of that information already in my research stacks.

Step 4. Gather a small pile of books & take them away from the computer. Take myself away from the computer, too.

Step 5. Curl up on the couch with the books and my Blackberry. Yes, my Blackberry. This is important. The cat is also welcome.

Step 6. Start reading.

Step 7. Gather data and details, while waiting for burst of inspiration for the story.

Step 8. Repeat Steps 6 & 7. Perhaps ad nauseam.

Step 9. Get an idea.

Step 10. Gasp with excitement.

Step 11. Email it to myself via my Blackberry. (Told you it was important. This system actually keeps me doing research, without losing my place in the book, while the ideas simmer away and grow, hence creating more emails to my self via my…okay, you got it. So it is not just laziness.)

Step 12. When the BIG lightbulb in the sky blazes with THE idea and enough emails have been sent, I drop the books (being careful to not, of course, drop my Blackberry with them) and run to the computer. Or skip. Or dance. Depending on how bright that lightbulb really is.

(Artistic interpretation by my son.)

Step 13. Open Scrivener and start putting all those emails into character and scene notes.

Step 14. Rinse and repeat.

Step 15. Get closer and closer to shoving all character and plot and research into a paper bag and just start writing.


  1. claudine says:

    That is a WONDERFUL research method! Very inspiring! I especially like the company of a cat, though I may have to settle for a couple of very furry doggies.


  2. enjoyed this post. I have my own version of it…albeit w/o the blackberry. But I agree with the part about moving away from the computer and off to the couch. Also, about different types of research that have to be done at certain times. Joyce told me I had to interview enough people to get started, then write, and then go back and interview and research more. She was right.


    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Carol. Yes, you can’t do it all at one time. I’m definitely finding that to be true.


  3. One of the Marin speakers last year called it
    “Research Rapture” and of that I’m guilty!
    I will research anything and I don’t have a cat!


  4. nrhatch says:

    I found this post entertaining . . . and not-too-scary. πŸ™‚


  5. Okay, love the research methods, but the artwork — your son is so talented!


    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks! I think so, too. He just got himself a tablet & he’s amazing me what he can do freehand. This, he did NOT get from me. πŸ™‚


  6. So much fun to read this. Whether you work with a Blackberry or little scraps of paper or index cards in file boxes, paying attention to those “zings” is crucial to good research. Great that you’ve found a system that helps you do that.


    • beckylevine says:

      My, the best part, for me is that the blackberry/email keeps it electronic. I was forever losing those scraps of paper!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: