author, creative writing, writing

Novel Writing: Tips on Research

Morning all, I hope you’ve had a wonderful week.

Last week I was asked if I would do a post on researching for novel writing. I love the research stage of plotting and writing. I think you find more ideas and inspiration while researching as well as learning so much more about certain subjects. It is enlightening for us as people and as writers.

Research is so important when it comes to novel writing. While you can exercise a little artistic license, and twist things in the name of fiction, fundamentally you need to get things right. Portraying things properly gives more authenticity to your story and makes it more believable and enjoyable for readers. Online resources are abundant, with search engines and YouTube making it really easy to find answers to your questions. But there are other ways to research too. I’ve compiled just a few ways in which you can research for your novel, do comment below to add your tips, advice and thoughts!


1.Β  Visit your novel’s location
I’ve spoken quite passionately before about reasons to visit your novel’s location. Being able to experience your character’s surroundings adds real authenticity to your story, and helps you get the facts right when you write about it. Even if your setting is fictional, you can spend time in similar settings. For examples, if your fictional world is based by the sea, or in the forest, or in an ancient city you can still visit similar places for inspiration.
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2. Go to the library
When you are re-searching a particular subject it makes sense to turn to books for information. However, sometimes you don’t know exactly what book you need until you find it. This can make online book browsing difficult, but it is much easier in library. All you need to do is look in the right section, and you may find the perfect book on your subject matter. Not only that, but you can borrow books for free, which supports your local library and allows you to do all of your research for free.
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3. Find research books for writers
It makes sense to read books on the matter you are researching, but sometimes these books can include more information than you need, which takes up too much of your time. In some cases you can find books specifically aimed at writer’s of a particular subject. My favourite, for example, is The Crime Writer’s Guide to Practice and Procedure by Michael O’Byrne. It cleverly summarises key elements of police procedure in a a layout specifically designed for writers. (Please note this book is for British Police Procedure). You may be able to find similar books in your subject area.
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4. Watch documentaries
This is a great research method as it allows you to get away with watching TV while calling it work! I spoke about documentaries in my blog post about finding inspiration in TV and film, and they are certainly a great research method. Documentaries aim to provide clear and concise information with accurate facts and the added bonus of amazing footage. They are insightful and can help you really take a deeper look into the subject matter. All while curled up with a cup of tea and your notebook – ideal!
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5. Talk to people
They say you should write about what you know, but that’s not to say you can’t get to know something else. If you aren’t entirely sure on the subject matter, speak to someone who is. For example, my current work in progress has a protagonist who is homeless. Thankfully, I’ve never been in this position myself, however I’ve spent a lot of time with people who have. Their insight and honesty is what inspired me to write my story, and give what I hope is a true account of what it can be like to live on the streets. If you need to know something, find someone with the answers. Many people will be happy to offer up a moment of their time.
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I hope this has provided some useful information for those looking to research for their novel. Please comment below to share your thoughts and idea or contact me anytime.

Until then,
Keep writing,
M
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40 thoughts on “Novel Writing: Tips on Research”

  1. About documentaries… I once watched one about ancient Rome and seeing how the city could work really well without modern technology gave me some idea how to approach cities in fantasy. Unexpected but welcome nudge.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Tomas! Thanks for sharing, that sounds really interesting and insightful. I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on Rome myself recently as I’m visiting on Tuesday – it’s certainly a very inspiring place! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Good advice. I also love the research stage – I’m lucky to have access to a university library through work, and re-visiting one of the inspirations for a setting, Lyme House in Cheshire, is no hardship. However, I catch myself having to be careful I don’t ‘shoe horn’ in a tasty fact or bit of research simply because I’ve done it / know it. I don’t know if anyone else shares this temptation(?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose it depends entirely on what your writing. Because there is a crime element to my story I had to research police procedure as I knew very little about it and didn’t want to portray it inaccurately. There will be some stories that require little or no research, as everything you need to know may already be in your head πŸ™‚ Happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed this post – I also love the idea of travelling especially as it’s something you can share with the kids – my wip is set in Sweden so we went there on a family holiday which was great for all if us – live the documentary watching idea too πŸ™‚ thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. exactly πŸ™‚ and yes Sweden was gorgeous but now rhat my character’s in Lapland .. πŸ˜‚ thanks looking forward to your next post – have a great Sunday!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s possible to go overboard with research, especially during your first draft, and distract yourself from the real writing. This type of procrastination fools you because it feels like your getting a lot done. I am guilty of this. I try to combine research with the writing. If I come to a place in my story where I need outside info, I’ll make a note of it and come back to it later. This way, the word count continues to go up as you gather background information.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Evelyn, that’s a great point and an important one at that. I hope readers scroll down and see this comment! Definitely a good idea to make note and then research later so as not break the flow of actual writing. Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

      Like

  5. I’ve found this particularly necessary when writing about certain events pertaining to child birth, and with various medical matters regarding injuries. It’s much better to admit you don’t know and look for answers than to try to fudge your way through and hope no one notices!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agree completely! Because you never know who may one day read your story, and if they have knowledge on the matter it will only infuriate them if major details are wrong. This can be particularly damaging if broaching sensitive subject matters.
      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts ❀

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  6. Fascinating post, ML. I currently have no aspirations to write a novel, but haven’t dismissed it entirely. I don’t read a lot of novels either, so there’s probably a correlation. However, I do a lot of research, much of it relates to colourful characters from my family history and I’ve been thinking of compiling these stories into a book. Online newspapers have been a treasure trove for me. In the past, the details of divorces and various other court cases were printed in extraordinary detail in the papers. These accounts have not only provided me with details of what’s happened but also some insights into the social framework. There are little nuances I’ve picked up, which would help make a story more authentic. Here’s a link to one which deals with a broken engagement, and even prints love letters between the couple in the newspaper: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2018/06/10/family-history-uncovered-broken-hearted-ivy-sues-for-breach-of-promise/
    BTW I appreciated how you mentioned the thing about not just writing about what you know but also something you’d like to find out about. That drives a lot of my writing, as I’m quite a seeker.
    Lastly, I find movies very helpful for revisiting places and picking up details. The manuscript I’m working on at the moment, frequently harks back to my travels through Europe back in 1992. It’s a long time ago now, but last night I was watching “Unknown” staring Liam Neeson and I swear they’d filmed it inside the student accommodation I’d staying in art East Berlin and the old telephone was the same. Small details but it sure was great to see them again!
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Rowena, thank you so much for such a lovely comment, and for sharing your own research journey. It all sounds really fascinating and I love your tip about movies too. As you say, it’s a great way to visit a different time. Best of luck with your writing, and do stop by again πŸ™‚

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  7. I’m totally addicted to Trove at the moment (an online government / library resource in Australia) which has scanned copies of practically anything a writer can find inspiration in – old newspapers, photos, reports etc. It’s the most fabulous research hole to fall down and get lost in. And it’s a free, very reliable, service.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great article…thank you. My stories are set in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s. I used my library to find books on Victorian America. Once I found those most helpful I went online and bought my own used copies.
    Also, I stumbled upon the β€˜Images Of America’ series of books. Using old photos these books show neighborhoods, cities and areas that are long gone. They are an immense help with accurate descriptions.
    One more research tool…school yearbooks. One of my stories takes place on State College Washington-Pullman in 1942. I picked up the β€˜42 yearbook off of eBay for about $10. Such a great help!

    Liked by 1 person

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