Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | February 5, 2013

Making a hero out of a research assistant

One of my favorite parts of any book that I read is the research scene. This is the scene where the protagonist desperately needs information to keep up with the adventure. This could be earlier in the book where they just want to look something up because they’re interested, and it’s the following up of that interest that gets them into further trouble. Examples of this are countless and ask the basic question for the protagonist: be careful what you are interested in. In this case the adventure hasn’t happened yet, and the research gets it started.

Sometimes the research scene happens in stories where the adventure was already well on its way, and the only way the protagonist can deal with the adventure is by knowing more about it. This research yields informational know-how that can be of countless varieties. For stories involving city crime, this could come from a police source with access to some sort of criminal database, or even the notes and observations of a particular investigation. For magic, you need a mage or wizard type of character, often a mentor figure, to explain/teach the protagonist what they need.  I’ll never get tired of the trope found in paranormal stories, where the protagonist finally gets in touch with the “expert” who shares their exotic knowledge. It’s fun when the “expert” gets to confirm some of their knowledge for the first time as well.

Regardless of the type of information that is brought into the spotlight in the story, the research makes a hero of the expert. They can be librarians, archeologists, secretaries, musicians, farmers, police clerks, computer administrators, or any position you can think of. Dan Brown’s books with Robert Langdon as the protagonist are some of my favorite examples of making a hero of a research guru.

The research scene(s) that eventually culminates is one that I anticipate with enough enthusiasm, that it’s easy for me to get ideas for writing by thinking of them first. Start with an expert in any subject you can think of. Is that expert the protagonist, or did your protagonist meet up with them? How did they meet? Why does your character like this subject so much and how did they get interested in it?  The interest and relationship between your character and expert, if they are different characters, can be negative as well. Your character might hate the expert and the subject at first.

Take any subject, and make somebody who’s an expert in that subject be a hero.

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