Tips for Researching a Novel

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No matter what genre of novel you’re writing, you’ll almost surely be confronted by a question. Is the Eiffel Tower north or south of my heroine’s hotel? What is the protocol for a detective when discovering a dead body? Could my hero drive from Miami Beach to the Keys in under three hours? The more realistic your fiction is, the more it’s believable. That means your reader will be immersed in the story instead of distracted by knowing it’s “wrong.” Yes, you are making things up, but don’t let sloppy details take your reader out of your story. Here are my best tips for researching a novel.

Expand Your Resources

Sometimes when I get stuck with a plot point, I can solve my problem by doing research. Often I discover potential problems to make my heroine’s life even harder—which, as vicious as it sounds, makes for a better story. Anchoring your book’s world in the constraints of real life provides lots of conflict, even issues you might not have thought of before. What if there’s a strike and the trains aren’t operating in Paris? How will your hero reach the heroine before she leaves the city—forever? See, little things can help make your plot more interesting.

It’s obvious that the Internet is a wide source of information, but it’s also limited. Though poor, bad, or fake sources are out there, my biggest issue is that although basic information about a topic is widely available and free, usually I can’t find the depth I need. For that, I turn to books or articles behind paywalls. That could be the case for you, depending on what you’re searching for. For all of the Internet’s flaws, it’s hard to beat Google Earth or other map functions for finding directions. I also love to look up forums for real-person reaction to literally everything. Sometimes it’s crazies but there’s also interesting tidbits.

I’ve also found that YouTube is great as well. People put the most mundane stuff on video, which is searchable. Sometimes a moving picture tells more than still images. So, search widely! If I find info from one source, I’ll try to confirm it with another. It goes without saying that news articles are also great for finding conflict. News stories about crime or other issues sometimes spark interest.

Talk to People

I’ve often found human resources to be the best of the bunch. There’s nothing like being able to question someone for details or ask for clarification. Usually a free flowing conversation will yield new questions or new opportunity for conflict. People often will divulge information about the subject you would have never thought to ask about too, which is helpful.

My one word of caution about talking to people is to be mindful of their time. I find that experts in a field are often happy to help—up to a point. If you are asking someone to be at your beck and call, it’s always polite to offer something. You might not have a lot of money, but a gift card, a dinner out, or a lunch would be nice. If you’re writing about a person of color or someone with experiences different from your own and want to ask someone to be a sensitivity reader, this is also a good time to offer payment up front. A friend might not expect more than an honorarium of some sort, but it’s good form to figure that out up front. Any time you ask for someone’s time, it has value. Their feedback is worth it!

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


About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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