All writers, from Stephen King to the lowliest indie on Amazon (who is still probably two steps above me), will tell you one of the first good habits to get into is to do copious research on whatever you're writing about. How that research is done is up to the individual, so I can only give you insight based upon my own preferences. Let's just pretend I'm offering you a big box of chocolates and you can take your pick. Hopefully, you get something delectable and not a taste sensation akin to Satan's dirty gym socks.

I define research as any action which promotes a deeper intellectual understanding of a particular subject. You can do this by reading relevant books and articles, watching relevant documentaries, and talking to people who know more than you. I do a great deal of the first, a little of the second and not much of the third, even though the stated criteria would include anyone with a pulse. But hey, books and documentaries are produced by people who already know more than me, so that kind of makes up for it.

In all seriousness, I find books to be the best source for research, followed by the Internet. If I have a specific project in mind, I try to find at least three to five books or articles on whatever I want to know about and (here's the crazy part) actually read them. You'd be surprised at how many people I've run into who have books or printed resources and only read snippets or pull-quotes, as if information and context absorb subconsciously. At the very least, I read the relevant chapter from whatever book.I'm using. I'll usually read the rest at another time.

In my short story "And The Sky Cried, Havoc!", I spent several days reading about everything I could think of connected to the plot and characters within. The story deals with WWI and associated locales and objects, and I wanted to depict all of the historical parts as accurately as possible. This helps enormously with suspension of disbelief, so when I introduce a giant flying monster amidst biplanes buzzing in the skies over Europe, no one chokes as their Pepsi goes down the wrong pipe.

It's an irony that the more realistic you make a story, the more simultaneously fantastical you can make it without inviting criticism. Think of Michael Crichton and the silliness of Jurassic Park. When you're reading it, it doesn't seem silly at all because everything not fantasy is buttressed by mountains of careful research (mathematics, behavioral science, biology, etc.).

Of course, this only works until it doesn't. If James Cameron had added a squadron of UFOs to the ending of Titanic, I'm not sure it would have worked. The ability for a writer to judge when such things will work and when such things won't only comes from experience, which is a subject for a later post.

Books in my house are king (like cash, but much easier to come by). I do, in fact, read a great deal. And you should too. I think non-fiction is more useful than fiction, but both are invaluable. Think of a building: non-fiction gives you the tools to build the story strong enough to keep from collapsing under its own weight while fiction is like the finish work and trim. One makes the structure sound, the other makes it pleasing. When you read fiction, read fiction by authors you like in genres that pique your interest. As you read fiction, ask yourself: What does the author do well? What do they convey vividly and how do they do it? What could you do better? Even the aforementioned King doesn't live up to his own name all the time...and he undoubtedly is aware of it.

You can even play the same game when you watch television or pop over to Netflix. Watch a particular scene and ask yourself: "how would I describe this scene if I were writing it?"

All this is what I would consider research.Either you're researching the mechanics of storytelling, or you're adding grist to the mill of verisimilitude. Once you decide you want to seriously write, you are no longer a part of the end-consumer audience. Everything you read and watch should be done with an analytical eye. If this sounds boring or like it will suck away the fun from every story you view, it won't. If anything, it makes everything more enjoyable because you pick up on a lot of things others miss. You'll suddenly realize it's nice to pay attention.

Oh, and why does my wife hate me?

Because she gave me a copy of Far Cry 4 as a Christmas gift and I have not been able to stop playing it since then. What little computer time I have each day has been mercilessly held hostage by the infernal thing. But last night I finished it and will be back to writing. So, obviously my wife hates me.

But I sure do love her.