My Top-Secret Research Weapon 📚

Hi, all—

You know by now that I adore research. If I'm not careful, I can spend hours & even days digging into a relatively minor topic. Especially while I'm kicking around the broader premise of a book or beginning to craft my outline. That said, I always know when it's time to stop reading & start writing. How? I hit saturation. It's a bit like that moment during Christmas dinner when you realize you shouldn't have taken that second helping & you dare not risk one more bite lest you explode. Only the high-level alarm's blaring in your brain instead of your stomach.

But in the beginning, there's just so much hungry curiosity—and so much fascinating detail out there to satisfy it. That said, it can be difficult to know how to begin a research topic, much less what to focus on. Especially nowadays with google and other search engines just a seductive click of the cursor away. So where do I start? Kids' books. 

Yep, you read that correctly. I sometimes start my initial dive into even the most technical of subjects by visiting Amazon and perusing their new & used, juvenile print book offerings. Specifically, nonfiction targeted to late elementary and middle school readers. I've found this to be the sweet spot. Why? These books usually provide a solid overview of a subject with just enough detail to fill in the broad picture and also identify places where I want or need to delve deeper. 

Take Mira's first NCIS installment as an example. I knew that not only would an offshore oil platform feature in Chokepoint's plot, but at least one scene would also take place on that platform. My problem? Until I plotted the book, the only real oil platforms I'd seen had been from a distance during spring break of my senior year of college. Sure, I'd also seen some pretty awesome in the moment footage of a multi US Navy SEAL team assault on Iranian platforms in the Persian Gulf during a briefing back in NROTC—and I'd eventually meet & become good friends with one of the SEALs who'd executed that mission. But I have never personally crawled all over an ocean platform—which my characters would eventually need to do. 

So, I hit up Amazon and purchased these two gems:


As you can see from the covers, the books I purchased are older. This was intentional, since the oil platform in my fictional book wouldn't be the latest & greatest in the industry.

And what did I get? A succinct overview of the following interrelated topics:

As I skimmed the juvenile books, I was able to find connections to my coming fictional plot that I might not have been able to make by simply scanning article after article on the internet.

The books also contained detailed glossaries & appendices that were different enough to make both purchases useful, since each provided specific terms to better target my further research.

Did you know that an oil rig is movable & is shifted from location to location via an ocean-going barge, while an oil platform is a permanent structure that's fixed to the floor of the ocean? Until I began my research, I hadn't caught the nuance.

One of my initial juvenile nonfiction books even included a basic industry timeline & detailed sketches & cutouts of specific drilling concepts & techniques. 

So, did I need all that, plus everything else I gleaned from the books? Yes and no. 

While most of the information I read simply allowed me narrow my research focus so that I could enhance my specific, fictional plot points, there's another, intangible value to the basic knowledge that I was able to tuck into the shadowy recesses of my brain. In gaining a firm grasp at the overview level of a topic, I become mentally able to "write with confidence". And when you add that ability to the more specific research facts that go into a book, it all makes for a fully-fleshed out plot, more realistic characters & and a better story. What's not to love about that?

Keep in mind, the two juvenile books that I shared were the starting point for this specific plot thread in Chokepoint. The information I gleaned in these admittedly simplistic titles led me to a crucial, second round of detailed adult nonfiction books & a slew of internet articles that allowed me drill down to the precise, supporting tidbits that I ended up weaving into my prose. 

I won't share those subsequent adult books & articles here, since even the titles would spoil parts of the suspense plot for Chokepoint. I just wanted to share one of the ways that I begin my research journey. 😁




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