Research, Research, Research

Hello Everyone
This is Yesenia, Co-creator of the Taffetas. For the last couple of posts, Tracy and I talk about the importance of research. Rather than go over the knowledge we gained from our latest research, as in our recent Character Creation & Monetizing Your Online Content posts, today I am going to go over how we found our information, and our revelations about taking a step back to think things through.

Is there anything better than cozying up with a nice book - re-reading it a couple of times because no one writes in layman's terms, and then writing notes the equivalent of a term paper? Nah, I can't think of one.

Taking a Step Back
A few months ago when Tracy and I neared the beginning stages of self-production. Getting to that point was a trial- between finishing our first and second drafts of our pitch, we also had our senior classes at SCAD, and moved to 3 different locations around the US as we tried to live in the “real world” (Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it ... I'm surprised we managed to somehow stick together and get so much done).

By the second edit of the pitch, our story was getting pretty good. We refined our ideas based on critique. We had lot of beautiful new works, including storyboards, screenshots, and concepts, many from volunteer artists. Things were going smoothly.

Until we hit a road bump.

We had a good premise, even a good pitch, but there were a few things stopping us from making it amazing.  We did not understand WHY things are done the way they are. Why a good story is good, why a character is needed within a story.

Like many other creators who struggle with stories they've had since youth, both Tracy and I knew our characters inside out and the kind of art direction we wanted. We hyper focused on the details that we had in our minds, trying to connect all the dots and form the world around them. Because of this, we ran into trouble.

There's no denying we were close to our story. Perhaps a bit ... too close. Stepping back helped us see some of the holes and why some things just didn't work

We realized we needed to take a step back and make sense of all of our ideas. We knew we needed some outside help and a lot of information.
    If a writer [...] knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader [...] will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. —Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon

Here are the 3 main reasons we stopped to look for more information: 
  • To strengthen a weak point 
  • To know our subject 
  • To gain new knowledge

Strengthen a weak point
It’s important to brush up on the subjects of a production you know you’re weak in. Don’t get ahead of yourself by reading books on video editing before you have even started concept work, for example (we’ve done that so try not to overload yourself), but be honest about the topics you need to brush up on and have the drive to step away from your computer and pick up a book.

Start one step at a time.

If I have never done anything like this before, I know it never hurts to look up how others did it before me. Since we are currently working on is the story portion of the pitch as well as the mechanics of writing, that’s what Tracy and I decided to focus our research on.

Now, we are not writers by trade; we are artists with ideas, and reading a few books won't make us novelists. What reading about these subjects does is gives us a map to follow so that we can get better with practice.

By reading up on what makes a good story, we realized that there’s more to a story than its characters, a plot, and a resolution. Everything in it must have a reason that resonates with the theme you are trying to portray.

Know your subject
You need to be an expert in whatever your story is about, regardless if you plan to use your own ideas or not. As Tracy explains in Character Creation, research is needed to produce a credible persona. The same is also true of a project’s subject matter.

Our story is about mythology. It is set in a world filled with real-life, modern day mythological characters. After taking some time to brush up on mythological themes in story writing, the plot is now very myth-like too.

I was lucky to take an introduction to world mythology course in college with Tracy, which became the inspiration for the way our characters’, Veil and Gemini’s, story worked. That said, our research is far from over since our project is so steeped in the subject that an intro course just won’t do. We are hitting the books, reading everything Joseph Campbell and myth.

That isn’t to say we’re following the facts and nothing but the facts. This is our world, and we make the rules. If we feel the need to make our sirens like angler fish rather than the bird-like appearance in Greek myth, we’re going to do it.

Oh my ... We're naughty

But we at least know the actual myth so we can always have a solid base of knowledge to draw from. That way, we can make informed decisions when we pull from our imaginations, and use real life facts to ground our story in reality and make our audience’s experience richer.

Gaining New Knowledge
 The best thing about research is you will almost always stumble on knowledge you weren’t looking for, but that piece of information is so amazingly relevant and life-changing that you are glad you trudged through reading for a few hours to attain it.

For us, Tracy came across our story outline on a happenstance reading of The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film. She wasn’t looking for the skeleton of our story, but when she read the whole book and applied what she learned to our project, it fit.

Sometimes researching is a bit of luck, and always a lot of work. And since it can be so daunting at first, I thought it would be nice to share:

If I could leave behind anything from this post it would be this:

Go General to Specific

Always research the biggest, looser ideas first and then narrow down to the specifics. 

Tracy and I never took mythology in High School, so Introduction to World Mythology was the first and best place for us to start. We got a broad overview of our subject matter with enough key details to follow up on with more specialized research.

For instance, we now have read every book by Joseph Campbell, even though in our introduction class he was only mentioned a few times.  It's like drawing - you start with a good, loose sketch, and then fill in the rest of the details.

Step away from the Internet
 In today’s digital age, everything is at our very fingertips, but while there is great information out there, there is also vague, somewhat unreliable information too.

There is a reason high school and college professors usually limit the amount of digital sources in a bibliography.

I am sure someone out there has written everything they know for you to gobble up, but that information is not going to be accessible through a quick Google search.

Internet writing is meant to be as short as possible so that the reader can easily skim through the work. This means there is a considerable loss of information in the process. At that, you’re likely to find articles that are too vague for your needs or too specific for you to understand. So even if it seems daunting, read a book. The best place you can go to in a college library and search a keyword there. It will allow you to find more specific research rather than a general overview of the same information over and over again.

What has helped me in the past was reading both the introduction and the chapter titles. With most research book titles, the intro allows you a quick glance to why the book was written as well as the authors writing style. That in combination with the chapters of the book you can get some inkling whether the book will be what you are looking for.

That being said, books are not the only place to turn to for information.

If you are a visual learner, or looking to find how others tackled the same problems you are having, lectures like the one I attended at Geek-End 2011, any college course, and just conversing with the right people can help, but you have to take the time to seek those sources out (this would be the best time for google-ing I think).

By looking for real-world examples or people who have been in your shoes a person can get a lot of tips and tricks that are invaluable.

In the End ...
Our research habits are rewarding, but even after 3 months of intensive study, we have only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the information we have to gather.

I am excited to hear from everyone else their own opinions, findings, and tips on finding information.

Leave us a message below, post a comment on our facebook page, or write us at!
Be sure to come back next week for Tracy’s post on Theme & Taking a stance on your story!
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