I never, ever thought I’d write a novel that required research. I love writing conversations and developing characters and blowing readers minds with awesome plot twists and subplots that mean something. I don’t want to pour over dusty books in a library or spend hours looking for the one fact I need.
I always believed that research was for school papers or historical novels. I always planned to write stories that explored important experiences and moments I could already relate to and describe.
But here I am with a WIP about a girl who grows up on a cattle ranch in Nebraska but travels to New York in search of her birth parents. I won’t say anything else! You’ll have to read it someday. 🙂
I’ve never worked on a farm, and I’ve never been to the Big Apple.
So I’ve found myself doing research for my novel.
But it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. It’s so much more than reading old books and finding anything but the information you actually need.
Dare I say it, research can be fun!
4 Simple Ways to Make Research Fun
My brother-in-law grew up on a cattle ranch, so I was able to ask him a lot of questions. Talking to my brother-in-law was essential for getting an accurate feel of life on a cattle ranch. And I really had fun picking his brain for some interesting details and learning more about him.
If you are writing a story about a ten-year-old boy who loves Star Wars, or a veteran from a war, or a famous chef, try and talk to a real person that fits that description. If you want to write about a city you’ve never been to, try to find someone that’s lived there. Interviewing someone is such a fun and enlightening way to gather the information you seek.
Experience it Yourself
I thought I’d only write about things I had some semblance of experience with. So, if you are writing about something you’ve never experienced, ask yourself if you can experience it. There are some things you can’t or don’t want to experience. That’s fine! Don’t try to experience the negative moments your character goes through. Focus on the exciting, fun, interesting experiences. Let’s use food as an example. Almost every book I’ve ever read includes food. So, experiencing the moment yourself could be as simple as trying a new food so that you can describe its smell, appearance, taste, and texture.
Or it could be as big as traveling to a new city, state, or country if that is something your character does. In one WIP that I’ve set aside, for now, the main character moves from California to Oregon. There is a moment of sadness when she crosses the state line. Since the Oregon/California border isn’t too far from where I live, I’m seriously considering a little road trip. I need a change in landscape or something on a road sign to inspire that moment of sadness. Experiencing the moment myself seems the best way to accurately convey the emotion in my writing.
Experiencing something new in order to describe it is a fun way to do research. But it’s not always feasible. Traveling to France so you can accurately describe the French cafe where your main character eats a croissant might not be in your budget. Sometimes trusted and true research is necessary.
Use Library Books
You can use books you own too, but the library is the best place to access a wide range of books on the subject in question. Library books can be an essential part of research. But they don’t all have to be boring. You are writing a novel, not a dissertation or school paper. You may not need all the gritty-details for a subject. So pick a book that is geared for kids. It explains the location, or time in history, or person of interest in a simple, and often entertaining way.
Library books are also a good resource for research because they are likely to be more credible than some Internet sources. We’ll get into how the Internet can be useful, but sometimes it is better to avoid it. If you aren’t sure a website or blog is credible, don’t risk it hurting your reputation as a credible author.
Use the Internet
Although I just ragged on the Internet, there are definitely times when it is the place to go. If you want to know what people think about something, Facebook, Reddit forums, and blogs can be a great resource. The Internet can also be a great place to join communities of writers who can help you do research. The Internet can also be a great way to find pictures to help you describe settings. Google maps can be useful in calculating distances if your character travels. There are many valid reasons for using the Internet. Google is your friend as long as you use it responsibly. 🙂
Does your WIP require research? How do you keep the research interesting?