Friday, March 18, 2011

Some final thoughts on research

So we talked about researching your setting and your characters. But what about all those other details that crop up? Particularly for historical writers, where you're dealing with language and fashions and politics from an unfamiliar time.

Since I don't write historicals, I asked my best friend, and multi-published historical author Roseanna White to share her research process. She said:

When the story and setting are both firm in my mind, I head
to the library. I get books out on any topics I think might be relevant,
occasionally ordering those books I can't find online. I start a file with
images and descriptions of things like fashion and architecture, or other
facts I think might be woven seamlessly into the story. At this stage I'll
also try to find documentaries (YouTube is a great place to look!) on my
subject to give me more visuals to go by. While I'm sifting through all
this material, I'll begin writing the rest of the manuscript. A search
engine stays up on my computer any time I'm writing, so that I can find
answers to quick questions as I go.

My favorite method of research, though, is not to find reference
books--it's to find books written during the time I'm writing about.
Nothing anchors a setting in my mind like seeing the world through the eyes
of those who lived it. I love to find a primary text or two to use when I'm
writing a historical. I'll read these as I'm writing to guarantee that I'm
thoroughly in my setting.

Research can feel like a never-ending process, and to an extent it is--but
like any other part of the writing process, it's a matter of finding a
workable method, knowing where to start . . . and knowing where to stop.

Some authors admit to being research junkies. In a class I took from Angela Hunt, she said she allows herself one week for research, otherwise she has problems cutting herself off and writing.

Other authors are like me, groaning and dragging their feet when they have to do research. I'll do it, of course, but I'd rather be writing. I know this about myself, so I do my best to pick topics I know I'll enjoy researching.

Like the foodie book I'm working on. I like food. I wish I had more time for cooking. The idea was born out of cooking dinner with my daughter so, really, it's just an excuse to order in a bunch of cookbooks from the library. It's research that's fun for me, and that'll show up on the page. So, if you have zero interest in cars and think people who like cars are kinda stupid, I don't recommend having cars be a big part of your story. Don't torture yourself. Or your reader, who will likely pick up on your emotions.

The final tip I can offer you is that of giraffes.

When I'm writing, I often find little things that need to be researched. Things that I know won't affect the overall plot, like a song title or the name of a rival high school. Instead of stopping to research every tidbit, I do this:


Or, So long as we defeat NAME OF RIVAL H.S. GIRAFFE, I don't care.

When I'm done with my first draft, I can do a search for "Giraffe" and make a list of all the details I need to figure out.

Why giraffes? My brother-in-law gave me a giraffe about 6 years ago with a tag on it that said "Hemingway." I keep it in my office, along with my other giraffes, Bronte, Austen, and Dickens.

(Hemingway is the one on the left.)

I have yet to use the word "giraffe" in a manuscript, so it works well for me. When I write that book about an African safari, however...

Next week will be proceeding with our first drafts and hearing from the fabulous Trish Perry. Don't forget to get your writing prompts into me by the end of Monday!


  1. I still say it would be hilarious if a GIRAFFE snuck into . . . well, let's say your galleys. We don't want it in the final. ;-) And I love your giraffe collection. Beautiful names. =) FYI, I do the same method, but just use ###. Which isn't nearly so cool as GIRAFFE, I must confess.

  2. Oh, my gosh!!
    That is just hilarious. Probably the best advice I have read in a long time as far as research goes.

    *Still* laughing about the giraffe bit.

  3. Oh my word! Thank you so much for posting this (yeah, I know this was posted two years ago, but oh well) I love writing historical fiction and unless I know which sections of history I will be using I find myself drowning in research.
    This gave me some ideas! So thank you! :)

    I have had fun perusing your blog. I am an aspiring authoress myself, and I have high hopes of being published one day soon.

    Thank you for sharing your tips, methods, and ideas with the world.