Research for Fiction Writers: Part 2

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This is a continuation of last week’s 2 part post which can be read here.

Where should I go to gather research material?

There are several places you can go to gather information, facts, maps, photos, and general flavors to add interest to your novel. Here are a few:


Public libraries have something the internet, mostly, does not – books. Old books. They still exist and they are worth your time. While researching one of my novels that takes place where I live in Rhode Island, I found a book written in the 1930s about different Rhode Islanders of notable interest. It was a fascinating read and I don’t think I would have found the same information in a Google search.


Libraries come in different flavors, too. For example, I spent a magical day in the New Bedford Whaling Museum and Research Library reading a first mate’s log from a whaling vessel circa 1865. Reading the words of someone from a certain period of time is an amazing experience. It helps you to remember that people, throughout time, are just people. I laughed out loud when I read how the cook served beans for the fifth day in a row and that the ship’s sails were full from the wind of its own occupants.


Whenever possible, go to the source. I needed my main character to travel by sea from the coast of Northern Maine to Providence, RI in the shortest amount of time. I have no concept of sea travel and so I texted a friend of mine who is a shipbuilder. He said that his co-workers had a fantastic time discussing the best means of travel. Within a few hours, he gave me a bunch of vessel options and weather-related variables, things I never would have known of or thought about.

The Internet:

I think it goes without saying that as a person who writes on a laptop, and not a typewriter, opening a browser window and punching in your topic of interest is a super easy task. Just remember to fully vet your sources. The internet is a wonderful, yet sometimes deceptive place to do your research. However, you never know what you might find. While researching Eastern European folklore with specific regards to water creatures, I stumbled across the Vodnik. This foul creature lives in rivers and streams and has a fondness for mills–mostly because, allegedly, millers would throw passing drunk travelers into the rivers to feed them. How could I pass up an opportunity to include such a shady character in my novel about homicidal mermaids and their origins?

When should I take a break and start writing?

There does come a point where you might hit information overload. It’s good to recognize this before you hit a wall, or your laptop, with your face. While in a cafe, I had Google Maps open to the Black Forest, a music video playing, without sound, about a modern interpretation of the previously mentioned Vodnik myth, and several browser windows dedicated to the history of waterwheels and mills in Yugoslavia. My brain had reached its limit and I started shouting, “I can’t do this anymore! What am I doing with my life?” I slammed my laptop down and walked out of the cafe. I then took the next month off from writing to allow all my research information to stew in my subconsciousness. Sometimes, you just need to allow yourself space to process. Trust me, your writing will be better for it.

At the end of my novel, should I thank anyone who helped me with my research?

When you come to the blissful end of your writing endeavor, do take the time to acknowledge those who helped you along the way. I was sure to thank my shipbuilding friend and his wife told me how excited he was to see his name at the back of my novel. I once met an octogenarian historian who told me that another writer had interviewed him and never once acknowledged the historian’s help. He seemed genuinely hurt. Taking the time to thank someone doesn’t cost a thing, but it might make someone’s day a little brighter and that’s worth a lot.

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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