Research, the foundation of a good novel, is essential in making the story feel authentic.
Before writing your novel, you probably want to do some research about the era, culture, mythical creatures etc. This will make your novel more believable where readers can see this realistic world you created.
But how do you go about researching for your fiction novel? Here are some tips on how to do in-depth research for your novel.
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Tip #1: Do An Online Search
The easiest and fastest way is to do an online search.
You simply search the topic or issue that you need more information about. As mentioned, this could be a historical era, culture, mythical creature etc. The search engine results page will then display relevant content, including news, articles, blog posts and more.
A picture is worth a thousand words. If you need to visually see what you’re researching, you can also search for pictures. Just click on the Images tab of Google Search. These visual representations will make it easier for you to craft descriptions.
Google Maps is also useful if you need to conduct research on locations and settings. The Street View feature which includes 360° photos gives you an accurate depiction of real-world locations. You can even see photos from the past and discover how the place has changed over time
But of course, you’ll need to verify this online information. Ensure that the sources are credible and reliable. Information from a newspaper publication would definitely be more trustworthy than a blog.
Tip #2: Read Books
Another option is borrowing books from your local library about the specific topic.
For example, if your protagonist is an architect or works in the music industry, you can look for architecture or music books and learn about the technical jargon. Your protagonist can then include this terminology when speaking to another character and thus, making your novel more plausible.
Tip #3: Watch Videos
Another great source of information is watching videos on YouTube, documentaries and even movies.
This sensory format allows you to see, hear and experience things that you want to know more about.
For instance, The Bleeding Edge was horrific and traumatizing for me but it shed light on the dark side of the medical device industry. In fact, it could serve as an inspiration for a dystopian novel.
Tip #4: Interview People
Sometimes, it’s best to interview people to get information and insights of their personal experience.
This could be an industry expert, a resident of the location where your story takes place or someone who has encountered the same situation as your protagonist.
In addition to asking them questions, you can also observe them and take note of their behavior. Let’s say you intend to write a story about dissociative identity disorder (DID). You can consider interviewing a DID patient or even observe how the patient switches to an alternate identity.
You can begin by interviewing your friends and family to build confidence. This practice will also help you gain experience in asking follow-up questions based on interviewees’ answers as well as structuring an effective interview process. You can then reach out to relevant people and politely ask them if they’re willing to be interviewed.
If you’re shy about contacting strangers, you can choose to chat with people online. There are many online forums and communities where like-minded people gather. You can simply post a new thread and people will gladly help you.
Tip #5: Rely On Your Own Personal Firsthand Experience
As the author of your own novel, your perspective and insights are the most valuable.
If you’re writing a story that takes place in your local neighborhood, you probably will know more about the neighborhood since you lived there for decades. In fact, you may even have your own opinion about certain things in the neighborhood such as the culture, economy and residents. In this case, you might consider taking into account what you know and how you feel.
Your own personal firsthand experience will be an invaluable source of information.
Tip #6: Take Notes & Organize Your Research
Whether you obtain your research materials from an online article, book or person, bear in mind to note down your sources. This factual information and the sources should be noted down so you can refer to them at any time.
You can store the research notes in a physical notebook or folder. Another option is storing them digitally.
When I search for images or information, I compile and store the relevant ones in Evernote. Evernote Web Clipper also makes it easy to save web pages and articles and annotate these screenshots to highlight important information. As a result, I’ve created numerous notes for research and organized them for easy reference in the future.
You can also store your research notes in Google Keep or Google Drive. Scrivener, which allows you to open your research notes right next to your manuscript, is another option. This all-in-one software for writers allows you to open different documents in the same project window at once so you can write your draft while looking at your research notes simultaneously.
Whether you store your research notes physically or digitally, ensure that they’re accessible and well-organized. You shouldn’t be spending too much time digging through your notes. Instead, you should easily find the information you want and focus your time on writing your story.
Tip #7: Avoid Researching Too Much
It can be hard to know when to stop researching. I also understand that the more you research, the more information you will want to include in your story.
However, you need to be able to stop researching and start writing. Once you have enough research material, you’ll need to work on your manuscript.
But how much research material is considered enough? No one will know this answer, except you. You’re the one writing the novel so you’re the only one who will know whether what you’ve researched is enough.
Also, bear in mind that research can become an excuse for procrastination. If you’re continuously researching, you’ll be putting off the actual writing. So don’t fall into the trap of never-ending research!
Tip #8: Don’t Info-Dump All Your Research
Don’t dump all the information you researched in every chapter on every page of your novel. Instead of info-dumping, you can choose to only elaborate on details that are relevant to your story.
For example, if you’re writing a World War II story that begins in the middle of the war, you might choose to only include details during and after the war. You can still research about the beginning of the war and make some brief references but you don’t have to describe it in detail.
Rather than facts and information, readers are more interested in the story like what happened to your protagonist or how the war affected his or her life. Keep in mind that they’re reading a novel, not an encyclopedia. Hence, do ensure that you don’t overload your readers with too much information or unnecessary details.
Tip #9: Be Creative. It’s Your Novel.
Novel is a form of creative writing. Other types of creative writing include short stories, poems, plays, movie and television scripts.
As its name suggests, creative writing is where you tap into your creative juices and let your imagination run wild.
Your novel shouldn’t be filled with research notes only. There should be room for your creative ideas.
You’ll need to add your own ideas, voice, style and tone into your story, rather than follow everything to a T (eg. culture, era).
Resource #1: Wikipedia
One of my top go-to resources is Wikipedia.
Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, covers everything under the sun. Whatever topic you’re researching, there’s definitely a Wikipedia page for it.
The summary at the top of the page captures the important content that should be sufficient to write your story. But if you need more details, you can always scroll down to the various sections.
Since anyone can edit Wikipedia, you should take the information with a grain of salt. In fact, I highly recommend that you verify the accuracy and reliability of the Wikipedia article with other sources. Perhaps, even doing a fact-check if you’re incorporating this into your novel.
Resource #2: Reference For Writers
Another resource that I like is Reference For Writers.
Although it’s no longer updated, this treasure trove contains valuable writing tips for fiction writers.
Check out more writing resources that I recommend~
Resource #3: Your Favorite Brands, Blogs etc.
Your favorite brands and blogs could be another resource. They can help inspire you when crafting descriptions.
Let’s say you’re a foodie who follows a few food blogs. These food blogs could inspire you on how to describe food and restaurants in your novel. Likewise, when you shop online for new clothes, you can also get ideas about your characters’ attire.
Now It’s Your Turn
How do you research for your novel? Do you have any tips to share or resources that you recommend?