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Research

This blog is very very late, and I apologize for that. Today’s topic in a shortened version is research. Historical, contemporary, fantasy, futuristic, research must be done.

If I want to write a story that has espionage, chases, murder, and romance that happened today and in London, I’d better know what I’m talking about. Research is necessary for anything. Street in London aren’t as wide as those in Texas…actually streets anywhere aren’t as wide as those in Texas. Still, it’s more difficult to have a car chase in London than it is elsewhere. Those little things that make up London? You’d better know them, even if it’s from a Fodor’s guide to the city. Can’t just say whatever and expect people to know.

Historicals are different, for obvious reasons, and more difficult to research. Try finding a book, website, or mention of daily life in Austria during the Napoleonic War that doesn’t mention the Grande Armée, Napoleon, that stupid frozen winter in Russia, or the royalty. Go ahead…and if you DO find something, please be a doll and pass it along!

Futuristic/fantasy require their own research. You have to build a world, and populate it. And then remember it all! Can’t change tactics midpoint, someone will notice.

I’m currently reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which I find hysterical given how well I know the original story. But there’s a huge plot hole I just discovered that bodes well for the Lydia/Wickham half, but completely disregards the previous half. PLOT HOLE! A little research could’ve prevented that.

What to do with your research:

  • Use Wikipedia for a quick and dirty find but always, always double check your sources. If you can’t verify that tidbit by at least 2 other .org, .mil, or .gov resources, skip it.
  • Keep a running document of finds. You have her eye color as green? Better remember that! You had him covered in tattoos? Make a list of every single one and where they’re located.
  • Trying to remember where you read about how long the British occupation of Washington, D.C. lasted during the War of 1812? Or the battles of the Crimean War? WRITE IT DOWN!
  • You think you know the city. You’ve lived here all your life. You know the neighborhoods, the people, that cool bistro down the street. Huh…make notes. No matter how well you think you know a place, you need to make notes to remember for story purposes. Just because you think you know, doesn’t mean ¾ into the story you’ll remember what you had, what description you used. Don’t want long paragraphs of repeating yourself!
  • What did you call that creepy alien from your scifi story? And where was that stupid accent located? Better have taken some notes.

The bottom line is that no matter what you’re writing, research is needed. It’s essenital to making the story work. If you can pick up the entire story and change it from LA to NY to DC and back again, what’s the use?

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9 Comments

  1. Great post, Isabel! You are so right. I’ve done that thing where halfway through writing a book, I forget the character’s eye or hair color. Or a minor character’s name. And you have to know things like slang used in a historical setting and unless your story is set in a fictional town, you’d better know the name of at least a few of the main streets. And knowing what major historical events took place during the course of your story is an absolute must!

    And futuristics, boy do I know about writing down things for that. I’ve got two alien races, characters with very weird names and the planet they’re all on, although it’s Earth like, isn’t Earth. And I can’t let my readers forget that.

  2. Isabel Roman says:

    LOL, I’ve done that! I’ve totally forgotten eye and hair colors, fictional locales that are very specificly detailed in an earlier scene. It’s not easy.

  3. I’ve just spent two fenetic days trying to find the original research I used in a story started in the 1990s. I know I wrote what I wrote for a reason, but had to verify it because, sadly, the hinges on my steel trap seem to have rusted.

    I keep large index cards for each character with vitals, foibles, peculiarities and such listed. That file box is never far away.

    I also write futuristics, and love it, but keeping the rules of my world and the particulars of its inhabitants straight can take a bit of doing.

    Great post. Puts the kibosh on those “sitting at the computer playing around all day” folks. LOL

  4. Jody says:

    While doing research and you find a book you would like to use but the budget just won’t allow a purchase, don’t forget to check out World Cat. http://www.worldcat.org/ This wonderful database it an index of titles and where in your locale ( libraries) may have it. You can enter your zipcode and it will tell you from that location then nearest libraries that have the title. I use it all the time to find books and other than gas and time it saves me a lot of money. It also helps to take a look at a book before you actually plunk down the money for it.

    Also if you find a older book but can’t find it a library, don’t forget ( if you are in the US) you can often find it as a downloadable on Google Books.

    I run a research and historical copy edit business and I use both a lot for books. I tend to like books rather than websites because though they may site the books, they may not have interpreted the information the same way I would.

  5. Luckily for me I have living history. My stories evolve around the mountains and places that were in the gold rush era and believe it or not, there are still people around who knew somene back then or remember what happened because it was part of their family, diaries and such. I love hearing the stories and put a lot of them in my stories as spice.

  6. Isabel Roman says:

    Jody I forgot about WorldCat! And me a librarian. I should be whipped with a wet noodle. yes, it’s a great resource. Just remember, a lot of academic libraries won’t let their books be taken out if you’re not a student, and with the way libraries are going now, a lot of us don’t keep older books that aren’t circulating. Shame but there you have it.

    Paisley, you have a fantastic resource!

  7. Good points on research. When researching your own town, one good place to ask questions is your local beauty salon. I was given the name of a local folk healer for querying about historical myths of my own local. Such myths were great inspiration for a werewolf story in the works, and the folk healer gives those myths a sort of solid basis.

    Jeanmarie

  8. Great post. Our speaker at my RWA chapter meeting on Monday night just talked about research and the various places to try to find what you need. Notes, notes, and more notes are always important!

  9. carolyndee says:

    Great ideas on research, Isabel. I agree with one of the comments on using local libraries. Don’t forget about inter-library loans. My daughter uses those all the time for her research.

    Caroline Clemmons

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