Research for Fiction Writers: Part 1

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Why should I bother with research when I’m writing fiction?

I’ll give you three multi-faceted reasons.


Your setting will sing if you know said setting inside and out. The only way that’s going to happen is if you do some research. Oh, I hear you, snarky friend. But my story takes place in space, on another planet, beneath the ocean, or …  (insert inaccessible location to the average underpaid writer here). If your story takes place in space, start reading about NASA missions, maybe even watch a Youtube video about how to wash your hair in space. If it’s another planet, I’m sure your interstellar locale might have some similarity to a climate here on Earth. Once you pick a climate, start researching as much as you can about its intricacies and use those to enrich your writing.


Your characters will be stronger if you take the time to do some research. What occupation do they have? Contact someone in your character’s field and ask them to answer the following five questions: What’s an average day like for you? How did you train or educate yourself prior to starting your job? What’s does your ‘worst day’ at work look like? What’s a ‘best day’ like?


Doing research will also increase the overall tone and authenticity of your work. Adding those subtle details whenever possible helps your reader appreciate your efforts as a writer. Just remember to keep your fact sprinkling to a sprinkle and not a deluge. Your story is the main event, not the finer details of how weather can affect the mold on certain trees if the sun is at a certain zenith and the humidity is less than optimal … See what I did there? I bet your eyes glazed over after the word mold. Never overwhelm your readers with too many details–K.I.S.S. equals Keep It Subtle, Sweetheart.

How should I keep my research organized?

The following two apps/programs have served me well while researching my historical fantasy novels.


The first is Pinterest. Prior to writing, I worked as a graphic designer. We had to make Mood Boards–a place to store all of our visual ideas to get an overall feel or tone for the work we were about to do. With my writing, I have used Pinterest as a place to store visual ideas for my projects. It is the one place I allow myself to explore different White Rabbit-style rabbit holes without feeling like the endeavor was a waste of time. When I would get stuck writing, I would go back to my Pinterest board and look around at what my past-self had pinned. I was often surprised by things I had forgotten and eagerly felt the jump I needed to continue my work. If I needed a particular look of a character, I would pin a bunch of photos of that look, then use those references while writing. I did the same for settings, as well.


Oh, how I love you, Scrivener. If you haven’t utilized this wonderful writing program, check it out. If you do end up downloading it, take the time to do the tutorial. It’s a bit tedious and may take you about two hours, but go somewhere cozy, grab a nice cup of something hot and something tasty, then dive on in. I was sold after the first Beastie Boys reference, but that’s just me. Scrivener allows you to store your research alongside your writing. My stories also contain a lot of folklore references and it was a joy to be able to organize all the various information I had collected into neat, color-coded files within my novel document. Scrivener allows you to add photos, documents, and web addresses for easy access. I fondly remember writing a scene that took place in a circus wagon. I had several photos popped up on my screen as I wrote. While looking at the photos, I was able to convey the type of mood and tone by easily noting small details such as the layout of the space, the color of the wood, and the style of the light sources.

Stay tuned for the second half of this series next Wednesday … 

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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