I haven’t written in a while, mostly due to the surprisingly (for August) high demands of my copywriting job. I’m now back with some thoughts on research. Whether for copywriting or novel writing, research is a big part of our work. And while writers today have more methods of research available than ever before, researching effectively for any novel is still not easy. A lot of times, authors new or experienced don’t even know where to start with research, and you may find yourself repeatedly typing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” like Jack Torrence, in “The Shining” (watch on DIRECTV STREAM).
However, by doing some simple tasks, you can avoid the headache that comes with mapping out the research for your next great novel.
How Is Good Research Helpful?
While it often seems obvious that non-fiction writers must execute some form of research before starting their writing process, it’s not always as obvious for fiction writers. However, know this: fiction research is just as important as non-fiction research.
If you have ever read a novel that seemed somewhat or entirely unrealistic, you have experienced reading a poorly researched work of fiction. These novels often have characters, plots, and settings that don’t make sense in the book’s context. For example, a character described as wearing blue jeans in the setting of the historical 1500s. To avoid incorporating these mistakes into your novel, you need to do adequate research.
Tip 1: Organize Your Research Before You Begin
Effective novel research can be executed efficiently with an organized method of research. If you don’t have a system of organization put in place before you begin, you may lose important research points and forget about them later.
Consider creating a folder for your research, whether it be a physical one or a folder on your computer. From there, make sure you write and store your research points in a way that makes sense—for example, in sections that deal with character, plot, or setting.
Tip 2: Start with Reading Other Books Similar to Yours
While you never want to copy another author’s work, it does help to gather inspiration from the work of others. Once you have your system of organization in place, consider starting your research journey by reading books that you think will be similar to the new novel you have in mind.
Although it takes a bit of time, try reading other novels you come across at least twice all the way through. The first time you read a new work, read as you usually would, and don’t take any notes just yet. On your second read-through, bookmark or highlight sections about the things you like in the novel. You can then go back to these bookmarked spots and take notes on the things you want to potentially incorporate into your novel later on.
Tip 3: Collect Information from Multiple Sources
Digesting the novels of other authors can be a good start to your research, but you will need to supplement it with many other sources. Of course, the internet provides a vast collection of information available for you to explore anytime, anywhere, but you should be mindful about which websites you choose to take information from. Some websites are more credible than others, and it never hurts to cross-research the same information on multiple websites to ensure it is accurate.
Non-fiction books are another great source for novel research, and it’s easy to read them for free through a local or online library. Many libraries now offer online catalogs of peer-reviewed journals as well, and these sources are some of the best for topics ranging from science to history and even specific sub-topics like Newton’s physics to women’s historical fashion. Whenever you check out a book or journal, though, you will want to check its publication date, as some older works may not be up to date and therefore inaccurate.
Tip 4: Interview Experts
It’s important to remember that, although it seems like you can conduct all the research you need online and in books, there are some pieces of information that aren’t commonly found in written sources. That being said, you may want to consider interviewing a real person who is an expert in a topic you are researching on, to get a first-hand perspective. This person could work in a profession related to your research topic, or they could simply be a resident of a town you want to base your novel’s setting on. You can find people to interview through family or friends, or you can ask others online if they know anyone who would be willing to do a virtual interview with you.
Any time you choose to interview someone for research, be sure to prepare a list of relevant questions ahead of time. You will also want to bring supplies for note-taking to your interview, and it’s a good idea to thank your interviewee for their time before and after the interview.
Tip 5: Visit Locales that You Want to Write On
If you have the time and money, it always helps to travel to a location or two that relates to the setting of your novel. When you visit a specific locale, try to give yourself at least two days to explore, using the first day to enjoy yourself and the second day to take notes and snap pictures, a lot like how you would read someone else’s novel for the first two times.
If you can’t travel to a location, consider using online resources, like maps and even Google Earth, to explore the location digitally. A lot of images are probably online to show you what the location is like in person, too, and you can use these for your research just as well as real-world travel.
Researching Your Novel
While starting to perform research for your new novel can seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. You can research a novel effectively by keeping your research notes organized, reading the work of others, collecting information from many different sources, interviewing topic experts, and visiting locations either in person or virtually. By conducting research for your book and by doing it correctly, you can give your future readers a better reading experience.