According to Dan Brown, research is creating another pillar for your story because it creates the world of your characters. Learning from authors like Dan help us understand the entire process of writing, publishing, and sharing. He’s built a trusted system that brought him into the Best Sellers list and created stories that millions add to their reading list.
Today is about sharing advice from MasterClass with a top author.
Research Steps with Dan Brown.
- Start by reading and getting information from all sources. Dan read conspiracy theories to be able to present the opposing side of the argument so that he could write a character who believes the opposite of the protagonist. He’s also looked online for the top attractions in cities, or for interesting buildings to include to enrich his setting.
- Talk to real experts. This step is about being hands on. Visit the setting if you can and interview experts. If you have a scientist or doctor in your story, then talk to real ones. Dan went to the Guggenheim Museum and spoke with the curator. His point is that some things can’t be learned in books, like local customs and culture. You can read about it but the feeling changes when you’re really there. He also makes a note that the people you interview or meet may become the character in your book.
- Dan shares an important point – your research should be a source of inspiration not work that weighs you down. However, preparing your questions for the specialists or experts in advance is a good idea so that your questions are focused. Someone at their level is busy and you shouldn’t wast their time with babbling or not knowing what to ask. This is why step one is necessary. Read about the subject even if you’re not an expert, then have them clarify. Find the connection between your world and theirs for your audience.
- When you speak with the expert or go on location it’s time to turn on your sponge mode. Dan arrives on location without a notebook and just absorbs the what’s around him. Then, he goes back and creates memory helpers like video or audio. Takes notes, draw a picture of them, and write your first impressions. If you’re at the location, then write a summary that goes through all your senses. What colors and noises are around you? If someone yells while you’re talking, then write it down.
- Take a deeper look at your pile of research. A writer should be able to make connections that the audience might not make. Find the surprises and twists that your reader might not find. Earlier in his MasterClass, Dan spoke about including your audience. They become engaged when they learn something. Finding connections without research makes your job harder, so remember step 1.
- Don’t focus on organizing your pile too early. This comes back to the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. Don’t try to win the race to the end of your book at the beginning. You don’t need to know everything. This is about making discoveries and staying inspired.
- When you’re research pile is overflowing, then it’s time to take out the unnecessary information even if it’s the most spectacular building you’ve ever seen. Ask if the piece really applies to your story. This reminds of something I’ve heard from other authors, “Good writers know what to leave out.” It’s not about how many words you can type, it’s about finding the right words. All isn’t lost, take Dan’s advice and keep the discards for a future story.
- This step is about the creative license of a writer to create fictional worlds, places, etc. This is your decision but Dan likes to use real facts like documents or real locations for his characters. He doesn’t alter the documents or the buildings. He believes that if you use a fact or something real, then your audience should know fact from fiction. If you alter something, then your audience may call you out on it just like when Dan altered a door from the left to the right side of a corridor in the Louvre in The Da Vinci Code.
- The last step is very fitting, and that’s not letting your research become a source of procrastination. I know what we’re up against as a writer. The house gets clean, dishes get washes, and your computer sits open. The point of research is to get your novel finished.
You can read the whole series by Dan Brown at https://amzn.to/3t1M8H4.
I hope I see you out there with your notebooks!
May the posts continue.
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