Solomon Creed is the first in a new series of epic thrillers that span the world, focusing on the enigmatic title character. But who is Solomon Creed and where did he come from? In his new column Simon Toyne discusses the genesis of his new series, focusing on ideas, characters, research and writing.
Part 3: Research
So far I’ve dealt with ideas and character, now I’m going to talk about how I go about researching a novel.
Research is fun – all writers love research – it’s the grist to the mill, the gathering of the string, the delving into interesting topics and places that takes place before you have to sit yourself down and start the process of turning all that yarn into – well …another yarn.
There’s an old axiom that says you should write what you know, but I think that’s incredibly misleading. In truth, all you really need to know in order to write a piece of fiction is human behaviour, and we’ve all been studying that from the moment we were born. Everything else you can research: guns, cars, locations, history, police procedure, language, local customs, everything – it’s all just an email, a phone call, a google search or a research trip away.
I try hard not to get too bogged down in preliminary research. It’s not an exam, remember, you’re allowed to look things up as you go along. In fact I often don’t really know exactly what I need to research until I start writing. I let the story tell me what I need to know, not the other way round. Having said that there are always some things I need to know about before starting writing, the foundation upon which the rest will be built. With Sanctus it was the inner workings of a medieval monastery, with The Key it was lost languages and how viruses spread, with The Tower it was space telescopes, and for Solomon Creed it was Mexican drug cartels and the history of copper mining in Arizona.
I start by Googling things, reading articles, Wikipedia entries, blogs about the subject and start collating a document with these useful links on it for future reference. This initial reading tends to throw up names of books and authors and I’ll make a note of these too and order titles that seem to deal with whatever I need to know.
‘I also wanted to feel what the desert was like in the height of summer, and smell the rain and listen to what it sounded like. This is the sort of stuff you can’t get from Google.’
One of the things I did for Solomon was go on a research trip to Arizona to try and find an old mining town to set the story. I also wanted to feel what the desert was like in the height of summer, and smell the rain and listen to what it sounded like. This is the sort of stuff you can’t get from Google. I took lots of pictures too, some of which I’ve put up on my Pinterest board. I use these photographs for reference throughout the first draft, studying and re-studying them, pulling out different details to help pin my story to the page.
The great thing about fiction, of course, is that you are making it up, so it doesn’t have to be factually accurate. Obviously if you can get the details right then you should because that helps sell the lie at the heart of your story. Using the correct terminology when describing someone assembling a gun, for example, will help tell your story and stop people who know that stuff (and there are a LOT of them) from being jolted out of the narrative. Going into too much detail, however, will do the same and this often comes from doing too much research. I have a post-it fixed to the edge of my screen in my office with a Tom Stoppard quote on it that says ‘Just because it’s true, doesn’t make it interesting.’
‘Often the thing I made up to suit the story is fairly close to the truth anyway. Sometimes the truth is wildly different and extremely boring so I stick with my made up version and brace myself for the inevitable emails.’
Once you have enough to get started I’m a firm believer in the rule that you should get started and keep on going, even if you come to something that needs checking. I used to look things up as I went along but have now stopped doing this because research is too distracting. What I do now is when I hit a fact that needs checking is I make it up and write those bits in CAPITAL LETTERS so it’s easy to see what needs researching for the second draft. Often the thing I made up to suit the story is fairly close to the truth anyway. Sometimes the truth is wildly different and extremely boring so I stick with my made up version and brace myself for the inevitable emails.
So, once the initial research is done, the only thing between me and the first draft is the outline, and I’ll talk about that in the next article.
Simon Toyne is the bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy: Sanctus, The Key and The Tower. He wrote Sanctus after quitting his job as a TV executive to focus on writing. It was the biggest selling debut thriller of 2011 in the UK and an international bestseller. His books have been translated into 27 languages and published in over 50 countries.
Solomon Creed is the first in a new series of epic thrillers that will span the world and centre around the enigmatic title character.