I’m a contemporary romance author, but many of the suggestions I provide below about how to research your book apply to multiple genres. Whether you are writing your debut novel (mine is called Twist of Fate, which I’ll be querying live to literary agents this weekend) or working on your twelfth, I hope my list contains a tip or two that you can use.
Research is essential to creating books that make people feel and that allow themselves to lose themselves in a rich setting that you’ve created. If you’re writing books set in New York like I am, then you better hope when a native New Yorker reads them that they aren’t thinking, well, this is way off. Research is an excellent tool to help you.
How to research your book
Google. The internet doesn’t know everything, but it knows a lot of things that can add colour and context to your writing. You can also research things that you might not want to ask someone in person for fear of being committed (see my recent list below). Google is a great first step to get background, but depending on the topic, you may need to supplement with additional tactics.
Read. I shared a list of books that have made me a better writer, which included many craft books that can help you create stories that resonate with readers. However, one of the books on my list is a favourite resource for adding depth to characterizations: The boy who was raised as a dog. Even without a psychology degree, I highly recommend consuming some books that explore the human mind and condition so your characters are realistic.
Learn. Don’t start researching if you have no idea what you’re doing. My background is in English, communication and public relations, which include countless courses on how to research and even more that required me to apply those skills often. You can easily fall down a rabbit hole and waste time you don’t have if you just start googling random things and hope for the best. Instead, take some time to learn how to research, which will be time well spent that you get back in spades when it comes time to apply your learnings:
Interview. If possible, go and speak to someone who is similar to your character. Are you writing about a firefighter? See if you can go talk to one so that your portrayal rings true to those in the know. The common suggestions is to “write what you know,” but there’s no harm in learning some new things so your characters aren’t always the same!
Outsource. If you’re writing your debut novel or are a new author, you may not have the budget for this one. However, if you can swing it, hiring an intern or a research agency to complete some of the more tedious tasks for you results in time savings so you can spend more of your energy on actually writing.
Travel. If you can, physically go to the locations you’re describing in your book so you can record sensory details while you’re there. My books are primarily set in New York City and I’ve been there countless times. In fact, as I mentioned in my fall bucket list, James and I are planning to go back and spend Christmas in New York because that’s one experience I haven’t had yet and would love to write about. If you can’t afford to travel (or don’t want), at least watch movies and read books about the location and, if possible, talk to people who have been there and let them give your work a read for accuracy.
Let me know below: what is your favourite way to research (books or otherwise)?
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