What are you looking for?
And really, that is the question to ask yourself when you are researching your way through a day, putting random combinations of words into the great roulette wheel of Google, to see where you land – even if you have no idea what the answer is. Today, my desk is covered with maps of Berlin, a variety of German history books, various and sundry notebooks, and a dirty mug of tea. But my Google cookies betray my online interests, from the history of Germany trains to the construction of railways in German colonies, to electrotherapy and mass nervousness in pre WWI Berlin. Honestly. What do I hope to stitch out of all of that?
A book, of course. In this run-up to the rewrite of my second novel, I am looking for some more information. There are things that didn’t get sketched out or made clear in the first draft. The first draft, for me, is always very present-tense-y, it’s the now of the novel and not a lot of before. In case the characters want to tell me something about themselves before I have to go and find it. As the last rewrite of the first novel was spent in addressing some “befores” this seems a sensible approach this time round. And all the digging around is leading me to think about the characters I have in new and surprising ways – which is, precisely, the point of research. For me, mind. It isn’t to show off facts and figures – thank goodness, for I can never read the notes I take. I don’t even know if it’s to add local colour, because those kinds of details always feel like tick boxes for me, particularly in Germany. I think the research is to inform why characters do what they do or did what they did, specifically. It is a way to set them not only into a place but into their time on their timeline, to make them a part of it in a way that suits them, and to create a web of characters around them for them to exist with or push against. All this stumbling around has made it a scrappy kind of day, but I can feel that I am filling in the black and white outlines I made in the first draft; I am putting flesh onto bones. I am trusting that this endless spinning will lead to some kind of payoff.