Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Writers Best Kept Secret- Research!

As a writer of historical fiction, research plays an integral part in the writing process of all my novels. Research is also essential to writers of contemporary fiction as well as writers in most genres. So today I thought I’d share the steps I take while researching my novels. Keep in mind this is just the process that works best for me.

Amanda's Research Tips

The first step is to make sure what you will be researching. For me, this means that I have a general idea about the premise of my story and what kinds of areas I will need to research. Then I will take a few days and do Google searches on various topics and see what I can come up with online. Although I do find a few tidbits of interesting information, I’ve come to realize that online research is not as productive as using actual research books and sources. So, after I’ve printed out my online findings and set those aside, I start my Amazon search. Although you don’t necessarily need to use Amazon, I’ve found the “More Recommendations For You” and the “Customers Who Bought These Items Might Like…” to be very helpful because they lead me to other books about the same topic.
After I’ve compiled a bibliography of about twenty books on various topics, I decide which books to purchase and which books to order from the library. Sometimes I just order all the books from the library and after reading them, decide which ones would be most productive to own. Most of the books I use need to be interloaned and our library charges a fee for this. So I need to make a determination if the book is something I think I will use a lot, or even in future projects. In that case, I may just decide to buy the book rather than pay the fee to interloan it. Most research books can be bought used relatively in-expensively  from Amazon and
Once I have all the books sitting in a HUGE stack on top of my desk, I start to read. And read. And read some more. This can take anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on how large the books are and how involved the research is. This is actually one of my favorite parts of the whole “pre writing process” because while I’m reading my mind is going wild with ideas for my novel. “Hey, my heroine could do this” or “This would make a great scene.” Usually, the researching stage is also when I add in final details to the outline of my plot.
After I’ve purchased some books, and photocopied a few pages out of the rest, I compile all my research info into one large binder which I refer to while writing. Although, I try not to interrupt the flow of my writing, if I’m writing a description or referring to something I’m not familiar with, I do check the binder now and then.
My dream......
So, there you have it. My research process. Now, of course what I would absolutely LOVE to do, is take an actual trip to the setting of my novels, such as to Newport RI or the great English country houses. J Alas, I must wait until I sign that elusive contract, following which I intend to become a world traveler.

Happy Writing and Researching!

Your Turn – How do you conduct research. If you’re a contemporary writer, what part does research play in your pre writing stage. I’d love to hear!


Sapphire said...

I also write historicals, so while historical research is obviously very necessary for me as well, I've also found that "experiential" research adds vibrancy to my scenes. For example, I wanted the sword fighting scenes I was writing to be realistic, so I signed up for a fencing class at the local community college, and when I was planning a scene involving ballroom dancing, I learned how to waltz.

Keli Gwyn said...

I, too, write historicals. Like you, Amanda, I get oodles of story ideas as I perform my research. In fact, I have to tear the books out of my hands at times, or I won't get my own written. =)

Dawn said...

I write contemporary so a lot of my research is careers, hobbies, and locations. Which I guess is similar to things you guys would research.

I however, do most of mine as I come to it. Well, I do NOT stop in the middle of a scene. LOL.

But as I come to something like say a day trip to Mackinac Island. I will take a virtual trip online. You know what they say about the world at our finger tips...

I hardly ever check out books, Google is my best friend.

But, I will make out a whole Itinerary for the trip- it does help if I have been there, (photos and videos can only do so much). I will even look at restaurant menus and pictures any thing to set the atmosphere before I write the scene.

Then I jump right in and start writing while it's fresh.