Thursday, October 27, 2011

Research ~ Essential and Time Consuming

Hi everyone,

Sooner or later, every writer needs to do research of some sort, from simple fact checking to more complex investigations of settings or events. In a nutshell, research has become an indispensable part of writing for most authors.

Some writers prefer to do their research after they have completed a first draft while others prefer to do their research before they begin writing. I prefer the latter because often times the information I will garner through my research winds up having an impact on what I write. Either way is fine and each writer needs to find which works best for them. One thing is certain, regardless of which way you choose to proceed; you need to make a list of all the information you will need for your book and then find sources for obtaining it.

Here are some great resources I have used for research purposes:

Library: I know it sounds so simplistic but with the world at our finger tips, sometimes we forget that this building still exists and it is filled with a wealth of information. An added bonus: any librarian will willingly help you in your quest for knowledge. Libraries are a great source for archived copies of newspapers, journals and photos.

Internet: Of course this is a great resource for information but just be careful because it can be difficult to ascertain if the information you are viewing is really fact or fiction.

Professional Interviews: For example, if your book includes a character that is a police officer and you don’t know much about police procedure then interview a police officer. You will be surprised at how many would be thrilled to be interviewed for your book. Make sure you go prepared by getting your questions ready beforehand, bring a tape recorder to tape the interview if you can, and make sure you take goods notes (technology is wonderful unless or until it doesn’t work).

Personal Interviews (Friends, Family, and Colleagues): Have you ever run into someone that doesn’t want to share an experience they’ve been through? Most people are usually happy to talk, at length and in detail, about anything in which they are expert. This seems even truer if you tell them that you intend to use the information in a book you are writing. 

Read other Books in Your Genre: See how other authors view the setting and how they weave fact into the fiction. It's a skill, to weave the setting and background and historical information in without running off the tracks and adding to much information. This tip can be especially useful when you are trying to research a period of time that was long ago (there will be nobody to interview from that time period) and can not only provide you background material but also show you how people talked back then.

Movies: Even though Hollywood is not usually accurate with costumes or architecture, if a movie is well done it can give you a “feel” for the times at the very least.  

Museums: What a great place to see and experience things of the past. If you have an article in your book that you have never seen in your life and there is a gallery at the museum that show cases it; it is more than worth the trip to go and be able to write about what you’ve seen.

City Archives: This is a prime source for historical town / city information that is accurate.

Census Figures: People tend to forget just how many things census surveys keep track of. You can find out what the cost of living was, how many homes were being built, how much money people earned, etc,. A very valuable source of raw data!

Experience: This is the greatest (and probably most fun) research of all! If your character is a professional downhill skier and you have never skied in your life, it may be the best time to give it a try! Note: To all you mystery writers reading this, it is not permission to try and plan the perfect murder!

Don’t just file your valuable research in some old box with all your notes you’re your book. Instead build your own reference library so you can refer to the research in case you need it again. Also, when you find a great source for research, make sure you record the source (book title, author, website, journal, etc.,) so if you need to refer to it again you don’t have to waste a ton of time trying to find it.

Still feeling a little lost as to how to conduct your research? Don’t fret! There is a wonderful handbook that you could add to your “writer’s tool box” written by Ann Hoffman called Research for Writers. Feel free to visit the Mystery Writers Unite Store and pick up your copy today or click on the following link:

Research for Writers

Have a great day everyone and happy researching :-)



kathie said...

What a great article! I'm starting a new book now--historical fiction--which needs a ton of research. Your thoughts come at just the right time. I'm going back and forth between writing scenes and doing research and I'm getting stuck! The first 2 historical fiction novels I wrote were more the, do some research, write a ton, then go back for another research. I think I was trying to circumvent that by layering in more research the first draft...I don't think I work that way!!! It is fun, though. I LOVE research and finding all these little historical nuggets--they're gold to me!

Becky Illson-Skinner said...

Thanks Kathie! I'm glad you found the post useful :-)

I know research has been a bit of a "monster" for me to struggle with and I just wanted to give other writers and authors some tricks / tips that worked.

Looking forward to the launch of your book :-)