July 19, 2009 at 1:48 PM | Posted in Writing | 2 Comments

You’ve got the perfect Shiny New Idea (SNI) and you are raring to go. The characters are taking over your life, desperate to be written (please, please, please tell me this doesn’t just happen to me!) and yet you have one problem. There’s something in your story that you don’t know all that much about. Maybe it’s the country you want to set it in; maybe it’s the Main Character’s favourite hobby, maybe it’s the meaning of your Main Character’s name. There’s often something you need to research – so, how do you go about it?

For me, the issue was adoption. In ‘Family Portrait’ and its sequel ‘Snap Shot’, adoption is essential to the story – but I wanted to get it right, make it realistic. Obviously, if you write fantasy then it’s a little different, as you get to make up your own rules, but research may still apply – old myths and legends that you want to incorporate, perhaps. For contemporary and historical fiction, it’s important to get any bits you don’t know much about right – how annoying is it if you read a book and know the writer hasn’t actually got a clue about, say, English schools?

The internet is a great place for research, but it gets confusing. Where do you start? Well, for me, Yahoo Answers (and similar websites) were very useful: you can get real life experiences that can answer your specific problems. People can be very helpful – recommending websites, books and telling you their own stories.

Then, start trawling through recommended websites. Create a folder in your favourites for all your research, and copy and paste important things into a word document so that you don’t have to go through all the sites again for the info you need. Hunt down books, if you need to, on Amazon: get cheap second hand copies. It’s often a lot easier to get your info from books, as it will be solely on the topic you want – the internet is packed with irrelevant information!

Finally, if you don’t know it all, just write: you can always edit later. It’s important to get the details right, but there’ll be nothing to get right if there’s nothing written. When I started with ‘Family Portrait’, the adoption details were extremely sketchy: I hadn’t a clue of the time frame of adoption, or what sort of follow-up visits there’d be, so I just started writing. Then I went back in and added some references to the amount of time it had taken, a chapter where the social worker visited.

To sum it all up, what I’m saying is get the facts right, but don’t let them hinder your creativity. Getting everything perfect is what those numerous edits are for! I hope this little ramble about how I research helps someone out there, or makes someone feel like it’s normal for characters to take over your life =]


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  1. I like to use AW for research. Just go down to the “Story Research” section and you can ask just about any question that you need to know the answer to. :)

  2. I collect so much random trivia from doing research. XD People look at me funny when I start spouting facts about how to steal cars or how hard it is to climb out a window (because I tried the latter lol)

    On that note, first-hand research can be a lot of fun. For some things it’s obviously not practical. (Hot-wiring a car, for instance. Although I’m still waiting for an old beater to come into the auto shop and school so I can give it a try. :D) But when possible, I think having your own experiences about a topic is irreplaceable. *looks around for a rifle range*

    I can’t wait until I’m published (and preferably well-known) and can say, “Hey, I’m [this famous author] and I’m writing a new book. Feel like giving me a discount to help me with my research?”

    Of course, if I were famous, I suppose I wouldn’t really need the discount…

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