Writers Block #2: The all consuming black hole of research!

Welcome back! That is if you're returning, if not then just welcome. This is part two of an  part series where I talk about how I go about writing comics, in hopes that it might help you out with your own writing/answer any questions/help you kill five minutes of your time. Last time I did a post about ideas, where they come from, and how to come up with some if you get stuck. This time I'm going to talk about the next step after the inspiration hits you. 

Like I said last time, I get a lot of ideas, some good and some bad. Once I get a good one, the next thing that pops into my head is "you know nothing John Snow." My comic Hive Mind is a good example. I wanted to do a book that gave zombies a somewhat plausible origin and the ability to communicate with a sort of hive mind like bees and ants. The first thing that came to mind was nanotechnology and stem cells, two things I only had very base knowledge of. And thus began the journey into the wormhole of internet research. 

First things first, I love the internet. In theory it provides the building blocks of an even playing field for all. Once you log on, there is nothing you can't find out about with a little persistence, all the information is at your finger tips (and if you want to keep it that way, read this). The downside from a research standpoint though, is that there is sooooo much information, and not all of it is factual. So let's break down some do's and don'ts of researching for your comic, and how to get the most out of your time and effort. 

1.) Do use wikipedia; Don't make it your one stop shop. 

Wikipedia is a great thing full of wonderful information that is mostly accurate. Mostly is the key word. Wikipedia isn't a bad place to start if you just want some background info on a topic you're using in your book. From superhero origins to theoretical physics, you can find pretty much whatever you want to know, but always be sure to double check it somewhere else. There are usually websites dedicated to the kinds of things you want to know, made and operated by people who know about them. I found a lot of good information at the NIH website as well as other government sites and science journals. Basically if you're going to use Wiki just make sure to double check any facts that you have doubts about or better yet, everything just to be safe. 

2.) Do a Google/Bing search; Don't stop after the second page of results. 

Ahhhh Google. Google's our friend right, it always knows the answers to all of our questions. But Google and other search engines run on an algorithm and it isn't necessarily built to give you the most informative results. Basically what this means is sometimes that top few results of your search aren't going to give you what you're looking for. You might have to word your search a bit differently or even (Dun Dun Dun) go a few pages deeper to find the information you need. I know for me, if I don't find what I'm looking for after a page or two, I just do a new a search, but I've found that sometimes if you take the time to go a bit deeper, you'll find it. This isn't always the case, since you'll find diminishing returns sometimes the farther you go, but sometimes the hunt for that precious bit of information takes a bit more patience than we normally give to things like funny cat pictures and Twitter wars.  

3.) Do bookmark things; Don't forget to make a bookmark folder. 

So you've found a great site that has all the info you're looking for, and later you want to reference it again, but you can't remember the name of the site or how you got there. That's what bookmarks are for, just save it in your browser and boom! instant access. But again, if you're like me, you bookmark a LOT of stuff, and sometimes the way it gets saved isn't The life cycle of a horse, or That thing you wanted to know about drug lords in Colombia, but rather Craig's page, or monkeytime.tumblr.blahblahblah. That's why it's a good idea to make a folder called comic research and place all of your bookmarks in there. If you have multiple projects make multiple clearly  labeled folders so you don't confuse one project with another. Trust me, time flies when you're writing and researching, especially on a deadline, and the last thing you want is to waste half an hour trying to track down something you could have saved and found instantly. 

4.) Remember books?

This is less of a do and don't and more of just a reminder that books exist, as do libraries. Not all the information in the world is stored online, and it may never be. There are millions of books out there and it would take a long time to log all the that information, thus the importance of going out and finding a physical (or digital) book. One of the best things about books (besides everything) is that 95% of the time, especially when dealing with scientific/historical/general non-fiction topics, they're extremely accurate sources of information. Nothing is more embarrassing for an author and a publishing company than to be exposed as liars or printing false information. It happens sometimes, especially in autobiographies/biographies but most of the time if it's in a book, you can trust it (wouldn't hurt to double check them too though just to be safe). Libraries also house lots of old newspapers. magazines, and journals that you can be extremely helpful. And the best thing about libraries is they're really friendly (in person) and also with each other. So if you can't find what you're looking for at your local library, you can see if you can request it from another library, and most often they can send it to your local one in a few days. Case in point, get a library card, make friends with your local librarians and stick your head in a book every now and then. 

5.) Do research your topic; Don't just research your topic. 

This is the trickiest part of the research stage, deciding when you're done. It's a scary stage to move past for me, because often times I feel like I just don't know enough. There's one more piece I need to put the whole thing together, and then another, and another. No one expects you to be an expert on the the things you're writing about (unless it's a non-fiction comic which in that case you better be), so don't feel like you have to know it all. Once I knew that nanotechnology and stem cells could theoretically (key word there) be used to do what I had envisioned, that was pretty much enough. Of course I did some more research just to learn a bit more, but I eventually had to get to the part where I wrote a comic book and not a dissertation. The same was true about actually writing comics. I did a ton of research, watched interviews, read advice columns like this, read books, did exercises and went to workshops. All of it helped me, but it wasn't until I realized I had done a lot of researching and not a lot of actual writing that the best way to actually learn is to do. It's the same with researching for a story, you'll find that you only use about a fraction of the things you research in your work (unless you're Warren Ellis) because at the end of the day, it's fiction, and you create the rules. 

So that was a long one, but I hope it proves helpful to those out there trying to hammer down the basics of the story they want to create. Just remember, research can prove invaluable and not just for your story. Research the comic industry as a whole, the people who helped and continue to help shape it, if someone has already done or is doing a story like yours, what kind of books aren't out there that you think should be. All of that is great, but don't let it stop you from doing whats most important, and that's actually writing. Next time I'll talk a bit about character building, but for now get your research on!