|Historical Train Museum in British Columbia|
The need for research is understandable if you’re writing a historical novel, but if you’re writing a contemporary YA story, or a sci-fi adventure, you still need to check your facts.
Even if you write a book that has a setting just like your home town, (like I did for my upcoming release Sofi’s Bridge) you’d be surprised how much you need to research.
Tweetable: Authentic details make your story ring true.
RELIABLE RESEARCH SOURCES:
- LIBRARY—Order old books from your librarian that may give a slant on your novel from another point of view. Eg. For Shadowed in Silk I found a book written from the Indian point of view on a massacre perpetrated on the Indian people by an English general in 1919. That book enabled me to write several scenes from the point of view of my Indian characters as well as my British characters.
- PRIMARY SOURCES—historians rely on primary sources such as birth certificates, photographs, diaries, letters, embroidery samplers, clothing, newspapers, autobiographies. Again, documents or texts like these are usually found only through the library, museums, civic centers, chambers of commerce.
- SECONDARY SOURCES—Information that is not from first-hand experience, such as scholarly books, articles, reference sources such as encyclopedias, biographies. To finish my British Raj trilogy I read biographies and autobiographies of Indian and English political leaders such as Lord Louis Mountbatten, Gandhi, Nehru the first Indian Prime Minister, and so on, especially for the finale Veiled at Midnight.
- TRAVEL BLOGS, BROCHURES, BOOKS. Eg. To get a feel for the Irish coastline for the book I’m currently writing, I read a non-fiction travelogue written by a man who sailed around the entire island of Ireland in a kayak, so I could feel vicariously what the coast felt like close up without actually being there. I also read tons on India.
- THE ACTUAL PLACE—nothing beats being there. Eg—being in India
allowed me to
Or this train trip in India. The blond lady is a fellow traveler.
- COOKBOOKS—Especially old cookbooks give such an insight into the foods people used or still use. Food and their ingredients add such sensuous detail to a story. This was especially helpful in my Raj trilogy when I found a treasure of a cookbook for English woman living in British Colonial India. Through that I discovered a favorite snack for British children living in India was a chapatti spread with marmalade.
- SPECIALTY MAGAZINES—such as historical train magazines, gun magazines, military, the list is endless.
- EMAIL—When I was writing Londonderry Dreaming, a romance set in Ireland that featured scenes in St. Augustine’s Church in the city of Londonderry, I contacted the vicar of that church through her website email. She was delighted to help me with details about the church especially the Ruth and Naomi stained glass windows. Even though I'd been there in person, I needed to verify my memory.
- OLD MOVIES—Great to hear and see how people walked and talked in the previous century, so different from us now. For my Raj trilogy I watched loads of movies, Gandhi, The Last Viceroy, Flame Over India (an old Lauren Bacall movie) to name only a few.
- INTERNET—is good for checking quick details such as weather, moon phases in other parts of the world, accuracy of what day in a specific year, etc. but always check those sources. There are a lot of falsities online.
RESEARCH FOR AFTER YOU WRITE YOUR BOOK
When I finished writing my first book Shadowed in Silk, I sent the manuscript to a female professor in India, but aside from her Phd in literature, she was Indian, and she lived in India. After reading my manuscript to check for historical, geographical, and cultural accuracy she wrote back to me and said she was amazed that I had never been to India (yet). I finally got to India a year after Shadowed in Silk was published which added to the authenticity of the next two books in that trilogy. But the reason my first novel rang true was because of the tons of research I had done. I read close to 100 books.
I actually wait until after I have at least my outline written, and continue to do research while I’m writing, or even after the first draft is complete.
Research is a treasure trove, one that can keep a writer buried for months if not years in all that lovely history and fact-finding. I did so much research before I wrote Shadowed in Silk that I had far more than needed for one book, but plenty of authentic details for a trilogy long before I knew it would be a trilogy.
TWEETABLE: Do not do your research first.
This is what I suggest when it comes to research:
- Get your story down first.
- Insert notes in your first draft to “Do Research on duck hunting.”
- When you’ve got a tight story, your characters ring true, then add your authentic details.
WHAT IF I DISCOVER SOMETHING IN MY RESEARCH THAT CHANGES MY STORY?
Granted that can happen, but if you do the majority of your research up front, you may never get that book written.