As a writer, you want every aspect of your story to ring true, and that means research. Whether you write contemporary or historical fiction, there is always some level of research involved, so here are some of my top tips to get you started:
1) Start with the basics and build
I’m always surprised by how much information I gain reading juvenile non-fiction. Seriously. As a homeschool mom, I’ve learned the value of kid’s books. They are well-written and contain a world of information in condensed form; beautiful photographs, great maps and in-depth overviews. They are naturally shorter in length, which makes it easy to read through several in a sitting. No matter my subject or location, I always start here.
2) Make a list
After finishing my juvenile non-fiction, I have a good idea where I want to dig deeper. It’s easy to get sidetracked while searching for books, so before I head to the library, I make a target list of the specific topics or places. For example, while researching for my debut novel, Submerged, I needed to learn more about Russian America. So I tracked down as many books as I could find on the subject—everything from historical overviews to detailed biographies.
3) Pick a handful of the best books
It’s impossible to read every book on every subject you’re looking for. You won’t have enough time to do so if you want to get on with actually writing the story, so pick your favorites. I limit myself to five. These are the books that I purchase and the ones I refer back to as I write my novel.
4) Take notes
I always take notes while reading research books. Otherwise, even if I’ve highlighted a passage, it takes me too long to remember where a particular passage or fact was located. By skimming my notes, I’m able to quickly pick up on key words and find the reference I was looking for.
5) Pictures are worth a thousand words
We need to not only read about our subject, but to see it, if possible. If we’re researching a location and can’t afford a research trip, then we have to find other ways to see the landscape and the people. If we are researching a profession, it helps to see that profession in action. Watching movies, shows, or documentaries about our profession or story location is a fabulous way to get a closer look. For Submerged, I wanted to see what cave diving was like and I wasn’t brave enough to try it myself. So I rented every movie I could find about cave divers. There are amazing documentaries out there on a vast number of subjects and most are available through your public library. I usually stock up, curl up on the couch, and make a night of it. Popcorn comes in very handy.