In spite of the fact all my novels are set at real locations, realistically depicted, and I have to do a lot of on-site research to be sure I "get it right," my primary research tool is quiet contemplation. It's the thinking part of research that makes all our stories unique.
Two of us could choose the same location, talk to the same experts, read the same information, base our plots on a newspaper article we both read. But, when we write, it's what we think that sets us apart and causes us to create two very different stories.
(This thinking is what really intrigues me about writing, and, according to the opinions of several authors I admire, more deep thinking would also help our world today--not to mention democracy.)
Another superior research tool is found in simply living. We observe people, hear and participate in conversations, feel emotions, experience joy, sadness, disappointment, fear, love. We read about current and historical events. We live in--or travel to--various locations on our earth. We use our five senses to understand and label our world, AND THEN WE THINK.
In addition to that, there are, of course, the actions we normally designate as research:
1. Learning what the lives and jobs of people appearing in our story are like, including professional people such as police officers.
2. Reading or hearing history or life circumstances that will have an impact on the story in any way. For example, one of my valued research books for my novel, JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, set largely in the historic district of Van Buren, Arkansas, was the diary of a Civil War soldier who fought in and around Van Buren. It was found for me by an antiquarian book seller in that historic district.
3. And, of course, there's getting to know the story location thoroughly, what we see, and what our senses tell us, especially what we feel as we put ourselves "on location." The location for a story does not have to be a real place on the map of course, though mine always are, but it has to be real for the person writing about it. And that, of course, is something thinking can accomplish.
And this leads me to a caution--not one I thought up myself, but something I have read in different contexts many times over the last couple of years. The Internet, along with smartlphones and television, is actually changing our brains. Think about how very different correspondence by letter is from text messaging or e-mailing. One arrives slowly, and has taken much thought. The other is immediate. One is developed in large, sometimes complex, paragraphs, the other, often composed of a very few single and often incomplete sentences.As a result (I have read) the immediacy and informality of communication today has led to a narrowing of expressiveness and loss of eloquence.
Don't know where I read this, and it was several years ago, but it sure made me think. "When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and cursory learning." Provocative, huh? Whether you agree or not, it is something to think about.
Back to my thesis: Carefully considered thinking is important for all writers, as well as for people in general. In fact . . . according to Katherine Paterson, thinking may hold the key to the survival of Democracy!
Radine Trees Nehring