I’ll be honest: I love research. For anything I write, I have to be very judicious about making myself stop as soon as the amount of information I’ve acquired has exceeded its usefulness limits.
My very first research experience was in the ninth grade. Before then, I hadn’t gone to public school and had never written a research paper, so it was a completely foreign process. I had to write a four-page paper for my World History class, and the topic I picked was Mayan and Aztec religious rites.
We had a week of library-time, during which I read every Mesoamerican creation story I could find, and every secondhand account of human sacrifice recorded by appalled Spanish friars. I paid special attention to the cross-symbolism of blood and rain, and to the unabashed pageantry of the presiding priest holding his victim’s still-beating heart aloft in offering to the sun. Then I was asked to stay after class so we could talk about my paper and establish whether or not I was Troubled.
I learned a lot from that first assignment. Mostly, I learned that teachers have a tendency to view curiosity as morbidity, and morbidity is apparently dangerous.
I did not research anything for the express purpose of writing fiction until I was seventeen. The topic was the antipsychotic drug Thorazine, and no, let’s not talk about how bad the story was. The Thorazine research was a lesson in hacking through the dense no-man’s-land of pharmacology and molecular structure to find the human aspect that was lurking behind what essentially amounted to sedation (because I maintain that it could have been a decent story if I hadn’t been seventeen and prone to the melodramatic vagaries of seventeen-year-olds).
The story was not good, but the research was. This was the first time I started to figure out exactly how much information the internet offered. I could wake up in the middle of the night, curious about Dresden china or disc brakes and immediately have that curiosity satisfied. I could research spiders. I could research spiders and venom-induced necrotization. Did I say curiosity? At heart, I may have meant morbidity. At least a little.
I still research the morbid things, but now I’m always looking for that one incongruous aspect that makes it pretty. Because I’m starting to believe that the pretty thing is often the easiest way to communicate what made you curious in the first place. Then, hopefully readers nod and think about it and move on. Possibly without even leaping to the grim conclusion that you are Troubled.