Tools and skills every budding writer and author needs – Part 2: The Research

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Nicholas FlamelFor me, this is always the best part.  Writing is hard, research is fun.  And here is where your digital camera is a must.  Memory is fallible, photos are not.  I’m currently using a 14 megapixel digital camera,  shooting in the highest resolution possible.  For safety sake, always upload copies to some one of the online file stores.  Dropbox is my current favorite. Indeed, I consider Dropbox an essential service.

The Flamel series is set in very familiar locations – San Francisco, Paris, London – and although I have been to these cities, lived there and know them extremely well, I took thousands of research photos as a visual aide-memoire.

A portion of The Alchemyst is set in Ojai, a city north of LA.  I have hundreds of photos – not only of the streets and surroundings of Ojai, but very specific images of the street names, the slanting evening light, the local newspaper, the fountain in Libby Park.  Everything.  When I came to write the Ojai scenes for the book, I scrolled through the photos and was instantly back there again.  Because of course, photos are not just static images; they evoke memories – and writers mine those memories for their material.

Similarly, when I came to write the scenes set in the catacomb beneath Paris, I had a wealth of photos and written notes to fall back on.

Organizing your research is critical.  When I started working on the series which ultimately became The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, I knew I was about to amass a huge body of research material.  For a while I used outlines and then, a few years ago, stumbled across a wonderful piece of software called TheBrain.  This is a stunning piece of mind mapping software.  There is a steep learning curve, but do stick with it.  Its well worth it.  All of the research, data and links for the series is built and stored within TheBrain and it allows me to see the connections on a single screen.

More recently, I have been using Microsoft’s OneNote as a way of capturing and storing online data. Over the last couple of books, it has become a crucial writing tool.

You may not need something so sophisticated for your writing project – many writers I know still prefer yellow note cards stuck the wall.  The only rule is that you have to keep the research up to date.

Read part one of this post, The Idea, here.
Look out for part three, The Execution, tomorrow

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