Research Can Be Fun Too!
If you’re a writer like me, you might start out with an idea for a story (or book). Maybe you map it out a little, plan the characters and plot. Then you probably start writing your scenes. Well, I imagine some writers are more organized than others. I imagine a lot are more organized than me.
At some point during the writing process, I come to a complete stand still. Why? Well, because any creative endeavor requires food. Am I talking about real nutrition, the craving our bodies have for sustenance? No, not really. Most stories require a little bit of research.
Now, some writers may do the research beforehand. I don’t. I write all that I can first. I get to know my characters and I write the scenes I can. Then I say, “Okay, what are we missing? What don’t I know that I should inform myself of?” Sometimes, on my good days, I look up the information as I write. It halts progress a little, but at least I have the facts I need.
In historical romance or historical fiction, this endeavor could get very detailed. You may have trouble finding the information. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll be so overloaded with it, you may have to be selective about what you use.
Some writers might use their local libraries to do research. A few may find that library lacking and decide to find what they can online. The internet is a great resource if used correctly. I have used Wikipedia a lot, both because it is known for its accuracy, but also because it is user friendly. For historical research, it’s best to evaluate your sources. If it comes from a history site, you’re probably okay. If it’s a random comment someone has thrown on a forum without any links to back it up, it’s probably not a good idea to use at all. Most of us learn these techniques in academic writing if we’ve ever written essays or research papers. I’m just reiterating it. Going straight to a textbook is always good, but in lieu of that, you still have to do your homework.
I have seen a lot of helpful books on Amazon that you can buy. They cover whole eras. These books can be either political in theme or just simply helpful tools for writers. There are some wonderful titles I have on my Wishlist. If you’re writing about pirates, maybe you would like to try Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates or A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. If you’re writing about the Medieval era, how about The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century? Have I read these titles? No. So I’m not endorsing them in any fashion. There are simply some great books out there that you can buy. If you have the budget, you might consider this option.
Whatever avenue you choose (maybe it’s a combination of them), evaluate your sources. For some of the feminist viewpoints in Upon Your Return, my historical romance, I found a dissertation online about it. Then I researched the student’s sources to back up those facts. Fara, the main character, had a time ruminating on the rise of feminism from her contemporaries.
You may be wondering where I’m going with this topic. Even the smallest work may require research. I have written stories that don’t require much. I looked up a city and local points of interest. That was the extent of it. And that’s fine too. But, for a book, you are probably going to have to break down and do your research. Probably a lot of it.
In Upon Your Honor, the sequel to Upon Your Return, I enjoyed finding lots of information on the different ports the characters visited. I did not realize how much fun that would be. Was it time-consuming? Yes, but it was worth it.
I recently busted my butt to finish writing a paranormal romance short story. The limit on word count for the publisher was 15,000, which made me more than a little nervous. I managed to get it to 14,950, but I digress. What made it paranormal was the Wiccan religion. The main character was a witch. So, I definitely had to do my research for that. Since the character did spells, I had to find real spells. And I had to include any materials she might use for them. I found a lot of Wiccan sites, but I made sure that the spells I used were common knowledge, not something made up. And the elements used in such a ritual had to be used for good, not evil. For example, blood is not used in the true Wiccan religion. That would be sacrilege to the purpose of Wicca. I also looked up the meaning of certain herbs so that I could use those in the story. I won’t even go into the importance of candles here. I didn’t do too bad with the story, though, because one of my beta readers was Wiccan (a fact I didn’t realize before) and she said I grasped the religion very well. So, that made me feel good.
My point here is that even in a short story, research is essential. Even if you use a fact here and there, I think it makes the story seem real. With setting especially, we have done our jobs if we can describe a place well. In my historical research, I spend a lot of time pouring over journal entries from the time period or reading descriptions of places and comparing them to what I have learned about a place in order to understand how it should look. A lot of the descriptions in my sequel came from actual accounts. Of course, I formed a picture in my head and put it in my own words, but I wanted to be as accurate as possible. And if I can make a reader feel like he or she is in that place with the characters, then that is all the validation I need.
So, do your research, check your sources and use that information to create the best story you can. Your readers will thank you.