The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 10: Research. It is part of a multipart series. For Part One, click here. For Part Two,click here. For Part Three, click here. For Part Four, click here.
How you research will ultimately come to be as individualistic as how you write, so what I will do is propose a logical approach, similar to what I use. You can adapt and evolve it from there to suit your needs.
First, start with your key settings, protagonist, and antagonist. Go to as many settings as you can get to. Stop, take them in, and write down the first seven to ten things you notice about them. These can later form the basis of your description. I usually use the voice recorder on my phone for this rather than taking notes. It makes it easier to first note seven to ten things, then compose a more full description of various features that can be pulled from to expand description later as needed. With settings I cannot get to, I start with google maps, pulling up images and do the same thing: write down the first seven to ten observations, then do a more full description. Sometimes Wikipedia also describes architectural features so I paste those descriptions in my notes for later reference. I try and ask people who have been there about sounds and smells common to the location because those are things you cannot capture online but can be key details.
For characters, I start with their professions. I talk to real people with those jobs if possible but also do lots of internet and book research, particularly looking for vocabulary they would use as well as basic routines they would follow in their daily work lives. These will be things that will be referred to often in your story to make it authentic. Then I research whatever other details occur to me from what they wear, gathering spots, social habits, hobbies, etc. seem appropriate as they come up.
In both cases, I keep either a spreadsheet or a Word file with all the notes to be referred to later. Or, if writing in Scrivener, a great, inexpensive software for novelists, I paste notes in tabs there for reference. These are easily updated and cut and paste from as needed. Then you can modify and adjust for voice, length, etc. as needed in using them for your book.
The next things I research are any scientific or technological details that will be key to my story, then I do the same with businesses or industries or agriculture if any are involved. After that, I pretty much have enough to get started and then research as I go. A fairly simple approach but logical and it prioritizes the stuff you will probably use the most in your writing. Getting the major research out of the way will allow you to write more and interrupt less for later research. Since once I get into the flow of writing, I hate interrupting that for research, I am quite comfortable with this approach. It may be different for you. Adjust as needed. This example is just to give you an idea of one logical approach you might take.
I am sure writer’s research strategies are as abundant as writing styles and approaches to craft, so don’t be afraid to ask around. Writers are often more than happy to share tips and ideas on social media about such things. I find it very helpful to learn from others’ approaches and incorporate anything that seems useful into my own approach.
Finding Good Sources
There’s no way I could provide information on everything you would need to research well. But for a list of helpful books, see the bibliography below to help you get started. Asking other writers is a key part of finding sources, by the way, and Google, Chrome, and other search engines are a writer’s best friend. There’s lots of information out there on the internet. Finding what’s legit takes some effort but you’ll learn a lot along the way. And exploring is half the fun, isn’t it? Maybe it’s just me.
|Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series) by Stanley Schmidt
Body Trauma: A Writer’s Guide to Wounds and Injuries (Howdunit Series) by David W. Page
Cause of Death : A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder and Forensic Medicine (Howdunit Series)
Daily Life in Colonial New England by Claudia Durst Johnson
Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons (Howdunit Series) by Serita Deborah Stevens and Anne Klarner
Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing by David Farland (Million Dollar Writing Series)
English Through the Ages by William Brohaugh
Everyday Life Among the American Indians: 1800 to 1900 (Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life Series) by Candy Moulton
Everyday Life During the Civil War (WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE SERIES) by Michael J. Varhola
Everyday Life in the 1800s: A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians (Writer’s Guides to Everyday Life)
Everyday Life in the 1800s: A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians by Marc McCutcheon
Forensics (Howdunit Series) by D.P. Lyle
Police Procedure and Investigation (Howdunit Series) by Lee Lofland
Scene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime Scene Investigation (Howdunit Series) by Anne Wingate
Space Travel: A Writer’s Guide to the Science of Interplanetary and Interstellar Travel (Science Fiction
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition Through World War II (Writer’s Guides to Everyday Life) by Marc McCutcheon
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America, 1607-1783 by Dale Taylor
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England: From 1485-1649 (Writer’s Guides to Everyday Life) by Kathy Lynn Ehrherson
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles from 500 to 1500 by Sherrilyn Kenyon
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West (WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE SERIES) by Candy Moulton
Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior by Carolyn Kaufman