The Ups and Downs of Research -- Jen Doktorski

I’ve done “research” as I was writing each of my books. I feel the quotes are necessary because I have friends who write historical fiction and others who’ve written doctoral dissertations, so I hesitate to call what I do research.
One of the coolest things about writing fiction, from my perspective at least, is that while I’m writing I get to live my characters’ lives for a little while. And because of this, if my characters are experiencing something I haven’t, or know something I don’t, I do research to fill in those gaps. Sometimes that research involves contacting a lawyer to better understand how a restraining order works. Other times it means reading about identity theft.

Sometimes, the research is more frivolous.

For example, in HOW MY SUMMER WHEN UP IN FLAMES, the main character Rosie goes on a cross country road trip with three guys. I took a very similar road trip and shared many of Rosie’s experiences, but when I visited Dollywood it was closed. (It was January, what did I expect?) So for that section of the book, YouTube helped me fill in some gaps. Riding this roller coaster was an important moment for Rosie, so I had to know what it felt like.

In THE SUMMER AFTER YOU AND ME, the main character, Lucy, wants to be a marine biologist and volunteers with a group that is helping to reclaim the bay waters by “reclamming” them with oysters and clams. Each chapter in this novel opens with an excerpt from Lucy’s research paper on the dating and mating habits of sea life. I loved doing the research for these excerpts! Here’s an example.
“Clams don’t fall in love. There are no courtships, fancy dinners, grand proposals, or family planning. For them, it’s all about the weather. When the water temperature rises above sixty-eight degrees, clams release gametes into the water leaving a union and the creation of baby clams to chance. It’s broadcast spawning. No attachments.” 

From “What’s love got to do with it? The dating and mating habits of North American sea life.” A junior thesis by Lucy Giordano.

I renewed this book from the library so many times I grew attached to it and wound up buying my own copy.
My latest novel, due out in spring 2018, is called AUGUST & EVERTHING AFTER. It’s named for one of my all-time favorite albums by the Counting Crows, so seeing them in concert this summer felt a bit like research. I wonder if my accountant will see it that way.

The main character in this book is a drummer. She plays the snare in her high school marching band and eventually learns to play a full kit. So far this book has required a fair amount of research about drumming (I’ve interviewed drummers and have been taking lessons on YouTube). This was my Mother's Day gift this year.
Maybe my next main character will travel solo throughout Europe or work on a cruise ship? I’m already looking forward to the “research.”


  1. Neato! Writing is so much fun when it becomes your own adventure, like this column a lot.


Post a Comment