Write what you know – or should that be, know what you write?
Research is vital for fiction writers. Certain genres tend to require more research than others, but almost any novel, and many novellas and short stories, are going to need at least some.
Research can become a problem, whether you love or hate it.
If the latter, you might try to avoid or rush this part of the process, and dive into the writing, unprepared.
There’s actually nothing fundamentally wrong with beginning before you’re ready, but this approach does mean that you will have to go back and do your research, at a later date.
Some stories, in practice, can be hard to work on, until you have at least started to research them.
If you’re someone who, like myself tends to enjoy the process of research, you might find that this takes over, and you are continually disappearing down various rabbit holes, only to eventually emerge, wondering what happened to any actual writing time.
Of course, it’s never really a waste of time, from the point of view that learning is valuable in itself, and may also be helpful for future projects, as well as the current one. Finding the right balance can be challenging, and personally, I’m still working on it.
It may help you to allocate very specific time slots, in which to do your research – if that suits your personality type and lifestyle. I can’t claim to do so myself, but it might work for you.
Research is a broad term.
As relates to fiction writers, this could mean researching a period of history, or a particular place, in which the story, or part of the story, is set.
You might also need to learn about criminal law, ballet training, drug addiction, breeds of horse, essential oils, or remote control ducks.
Or any other subject that I can possibly list – and, believe me, most of us do end up having to research an extremely wide range of topics. It can be fascinating, intoxicating – and, at times, simply overwhelming.
It can also be frustrating, when going beyond general learning, and trying to find very specific facts – many of which prove extremely difficult to discover.
Personally, I feel that it’s also deeply rewarding.
Fiction writers are in an unusual position, in that we find ourselves delving into areas that we would have no reason to even consider, in the normal course of our daily lives – and we do so for our writing, but the knowledge is, thereafter, ours.
It’s one of the many amazing aspects of being a writer, that I, for one, deeply appreciate.
In terms of resources, we have so many, especially nowadays with the internet – but should also keep in mind that traditional sources of information still have value.
Books and magazines can help, or simply talking to people, with more knowledge about a particular subject than yourself.
Don’t forget to consider libraries. Yes, we can find out a great deal online these days, but there’s something so inspiring about libraries, and it might help just to be in that environment, in itself.
You don’t need me to tell you that, but I will, anyway. Google is awesome, powerful, and free. Why wouldn’t you use it? And save any useful pages, that you discover on your travels. That way, you can easily refer to them, at a later date.
Also, refer to Bing.
Many people don’t consider it worthwhile to consult Bing, but I disagree. Whilst Google is very much the major search engine nowadays, alternative search results can sometimes provide those answers, that eluded you in previous searches. Worth a try, surely?
Bing results tend to be much more “exact match” oriented, and this can have positive consequences, on occasions. Definitely try it, if and when Google doesn’t deliver the information you’d hoped for.
Definitely, use You Tube.
This is also a huge search engine, and You Tube is ideal for much of our research. Video content can be easier to absorb.
You can also create playlists, which can be set to private, if you prefer: ideal for organising relevant videos, which you may want to return to multiple times.
Then there’s Pinterest.
Like You Tube, Pinterest is a significant search engine, as well as a social media site. It’s amazing for research, and especially useful if you’re looking for images. As a modern historical author, I definitely find it inspiring, and have a board devoted to all things retro.
In my post about naming characters, I mentioned Behind the Name and Nameberry.
These are both excellent resources for all things name related, but actually, contain information that can be fascinating, on many subjects.
Try looking up Cassiopeia or Rhiannon, on either Behind the Name or Nameberry. Those are just two examples. Any name from mythology, and you invariably have instant access to a concise version of the story behind the myth. A good starting point, at least. If interested, you can explore further. And how about the name Artemisia?
Baby name sites are certainly interesting databases, full of information that can be of use to us, as writers.
In addition to the sites I’ve mentioned, you should make use of any relevant niche sites, applicable to your particular areas of interest.
Many of these will be those discovered through searching more generally, on Google and other search engines. Don’t just use a site once, to answer a specific query, if it contains other posts that could be invaluable. Once you know a few really great sites, you may be able to save yourself time and effort, by visiting these directly.
Finally, don’t forget that you can’t know too much about any subject.
Researching a subject, even one with which you are familiar, can definitely have benefits.
Enjoy your research, but don’t forget about the WIP. And I’m saying that part for myself, as much as anyone else.
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