Once I've decided on a new writing project, (a process in and of itself), I like to dive straight in with research on any and every topic that my new story may cover.
This is one of those steps that I feel most writers either love, hate or skip unless absolutely necessary. For me, this is a part of my world-building process and I thoroughly enjoy it. By the time I'm here, I already have a skeletal framework of my plot and the research I do begins to fill in the blanks and expand the reality of the story I'm creating. It triggers new ideas and helps to clarify any thoughts or misconceptions that I may have had about the topic or subjects I'm researching.
My love of history has led me down the path of incorporating historical events with my fictional worlds on more than one occasion. These rabbit holes are always fun for me to burrow into - finding ways to tie-in actual events with my character's narratives or change the course of history. In BINARY GRAY, one character uses his "power" to eavesdrop on Nixon, as a lead-in to Watergate. In BLACK OF HEART, an explosion in the Holland Tunnel in 1949 New York City is caused by the high-speed pursuit of a serial killer.
Take a look at the Wiki page linked HERE and then take a look at the pages below - yes, this is FUN for me.
I don't want to spoil the new project I'm working on but it's very research intensive and there's a lot to learn from various aspects of history and science. In most cases I'll start online, but there are times when I prefer to have a physical book, especially when I may need a lot of visual reference with detailed descriptions. For example, learning about spiders, where you have thousands of species, a visual reference can help you quickly find what you're looking for when you may not (yet) know a specific name to google for more information.
A trip to Half Price Books or finding a used book on Amazon can be a cheap way to find the book you're looking for without breaking the bank, but don't forget libraries as well! Most of the historical information I've needed to gorge on in the past has been available online. For BLACK OF HEART, I was curious what major events had taken place in New York City that year and there was a fair amount of research into which technologies were and were not available. For example, the killer uses a Polaroid to take photos of his victims, which had just been released for consumers the year before. What did the cars look like? How did the people dress? Doing a period piece can leave you in need of plenty of reference and it's all out there if you know where to look!
So how important is research?
Every writer may have a different response that may vary by project, but my belief is that the authenticity of your characters and setting can really hinge on doing the necessary amount of research. Stories set in present day would be pretty light for things such as style or technology, but if it's related to a subject you don't know much about, such as heart surgery, well, there may be some digging to do. Some writers prefer to jump directly into the story and go back through during revisions and tie the narrative together with any missing details, such as specific terminology or equipment functionality. This could be a time saver over learning all there is to know about heart surgery before you get started!
Personally, I like to learn all I can, within reason, and I keep a notebook handy to jot down information that could be pertinent to the story or any scene ideas that pop into my head as I'm reading. This is a very exciting process for me, half learning and half brain-storming. That charge of excitement as aspects of the story start coming together really carries me through. Notes on setting, characters, theme, etc., are then processed again during the outlining and character building phases.
Maybe I'll discuss those next time?!
Thanks - as always - and happy writing!