East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Researching far and wide

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Something I often discuss on these pages is the joy (and pain) of doing research when writing.
Being a naturally curious individual, I actually enjoy doing research, and quite often I see writing as an opportunity to explore some issues that interest me.


Also, the amount of research is connected with the volume of work I am planning.
For a quick short story, say, set on Titan, the moon of Saturn, a selection of articles on the topic, plus the usual resources found online are normally more than enough.
Something particularly interesting and useful for the story might emerge, and then I’ll go in deeper on that single detail, usually while revising the first draft.
But in general, let’s say that, as a rule of thumb, a 6000-words story should be based on no more than one weekend of reading and note-taking. “For Dummies” books are a great resource when writing short fiction1.

A more extensive text – a novel, or a series – will most certainly require more research.
But, also, a wide and complex topic I like and would like to explore will have to support a series of stories or a novel for the research to be feasible. The time investment must provide something more than a gratification of my curiosity.

This means that if it is true that I am a MOOC enthusiast, I will also normally choose my courses based on something big I am writing, or based on the assumption the course might fuel some big writing project in the future.
Cases in point: I followed a wonderful course on British Imperialism as part of the documentation for a project called Hope & Glory that will start happening later this year, and I took a great course on art crimes as documentation for The Corsair.

corsair firt proof coverSo far, The Corsair is the project that has caused me to research the widest and wildest assortment of topics.
These include

. geography and history of the Mediterranean
. European and World History in the 1950s
. art crimes and frauds
. maritime archeology
. confidence games and swindles
. sailing
. WW2 in the Mediterranean and in Southern Europe
. sponge fishing and deep sea diving
. Mediterranean cooking

… and the list might go further on.
The project, on the other hand, is for a series – the first novella is out, three other are in various phases of development, and hopefully there will be more coming in 2017.
Doing so much research on such a wide variety of topics is perfectly fitting for the scope of the project.

And the point is, of course, that it’s a lot of fun.
Then, granted, it may happen that I spend two days studying photos of the interior of German U-boots to get a scene right.
And this is not exactly fun, in the long run.
But really, most of the time, only writing the actual story is more gratifying.

  1. especially if the library closest to you is 40 kilometers away, and opens only on odd days. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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