Your job as a fiction writer is to keep your readers happy for as long as possible. One sure way to repel them is to write something that doesn’t ring true. Authenticity in fictional worlds will make or break you. The best way to bring the truth is to do your homework–research.
Spend time in the places you’ll write about, talk to field experts, have an adventure and do something your character will do–you always wanted to skydive, right? All of these experiences will enrich your writing because of the vibrant details you’ve gathered through your research.
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”–Anaïs Nin
What type of research should I do?
Historical fiction isn’t the only genre that requires research. All genres can benefit from a little extra homework on your part. Think of research as a writing upgrade. You can breathe life into the vocations of your main characters, the location of your settings or the specific dog breed your character owns with tiny details sprinkled around like spices.
Do you have to do research? No, you don’t. You could write an entire book without ever looking up a single thing. Or, you could do all your research before you write. This second route allows your subconscious to process all the nuggets of information you’ve gathered over time. Then, when you sit down to write, you’ll subtly release these gem-like details throughout your prose.
Who should I talk to?
A young writer once asked me if it was okay to contact people they considered ‘experts.’ The answer is: of course you should! You should email, call, talk to any individuals that might help you with gain knowledge you don’t already have. Don’t be shy! What’s the worse thing they can say? No, I don’t want to talk to you. That’s not life-threatening. Move on, and go bug someone else. There’s someone out there who’d be delighted to discuss their life’s work with you. This is your big moment to try out these words:
Hey, there. I’m writing a book. Would you mind answering a few questions for me?
Where should I go to find information?
The easiest place to start is the internet. However, use caution and always check your sources. Everyone has access to the internet. The internet does not an expert make. Be sure to get your information from a reputable source, and whenever possible, corroborate the truth with another source, or two.
Libraries, museums, hospitality centers, and historical societies are all wonderful places you can physically spend time taking notes and talking to people.
What should I do with my research?
Keep a file, a notebook, or a binder if you like to physically handle your documents and notes. If you’re more of an electronic-type person, upload all your information to your hard drive (and then make a back-up copy) or use the following: Google Drive, Scrivener, or Word. Be sure to check out this post about keeping a Story Bible to keep all your information organized.
Writing what you know is always the best advice. If you don’t know it, there’s always time to learn.