Sunday, April 24
Let’s Get Ready to Research: Researching for Your Novel
Anyone who’s ever read a TL Morganfield story knows she’s a history buff. The amount of research she puts in is amazing (if a little daunting to the non-historians like myself). Even if you aren’t writing stories steeped in history, doing a little research can save you writing time in the long run.
I’m a fantasy writer, which means I make up worlds for a living. But making up every single detail for every single aspect of those worlds would take me longer than writing the book. So when I create a world, I start with research and give myself a foundation on which to build. For example, for my trilogy, The Healing Wars, I wanted a tropical-style island city on a lake. I did a little looking and found Lake Victoria in Africa. It fit the climate I had in mind and provided me with a geographic area that had all the built-in details I could need.
If I wanted to know what crops grew in my fantasy world, I had that information on hand. If I needed to know weather patterns, or when the rainy season was (if they even had a rainy season) it was right there in my research. Art, fashion, history? I had notes to draw from. Even better, I found real life details I was able to incorporate into my story that gave it a deeper sense of realism. Problems commonly found in that region that I adapted to fit my made-up world and cause my protagonist trouble.
But don’t think this is just for genre writers.
Even if you write in the real world, a little research can go a long way. Take a few hours and research the town or area you’re setting your story in. There are probably a ton of details you can find out on the Chamber of Commerce site or the local visitor’s bureau. These details can add local flavor and help you create a deeper and more realistic world.
How to start researching
Search engines are your friends. I just plug whatever topic I’m curious about in and start reading. Titles will jump out at you, other links will be provided, and you can just wander around and see what inspires you. For my lake city, I typed in “world’s biggest lakes” and started reading up on each lake and the surrounding area. I crossed some off my list because they didn’t fit the vision I had for my tropical city, but several were interesting and could have made great foundations to build my world upon. I read more on them until I found my perfect lake and setting.
You don’t need everything
You’ll probably find a lot more information than you’ll need, so don’t feel compelled to use it all. And don’t worry if you want to change anything to make it fit your story better, As long as you aren’t writing an accurate historical novel, you can pretty much do whatever you need as long as it doesn’t violate the facts (like claiming a city is in a different state or the like). The more fantastical your world, the more you can get away with. The goal here is to let the research inspire you and fill in some gaps, not just find “stuff to put in to the novel.”
Choosing what to use
For me, I did my research, made my notes and then pretty much let it all simmer in my head. Whenever I came across something in the story that, A) required a detail I could easily find in my notes, or B) could be made better by using something in my notes, I added it. This worked wonderfully for all those background setting details, because I didn’t have to stop to make things up that may or may not have gone well together. Like mixing two foods that never would have grown in the same region, or having something growing that wasn’t indigenous to that area.
A little research can provide a wealth of information with not a lot of time spent gathering it. It’s like having pages of inspiration ready when you need it.
Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at The Feathered Serpent's Nest.