One of the jokes about being a writer is trying to explain the search history on your computer. I know I’ve fallen victim to this stereotype, thanks to the genres I write. Whether it’s getting details about a location, the effects of certain medications, or the decomposition rate of the human body, writers use this information to add realism to their stories. Part of writing, after all, is research.
Want to be prepared for those oddball, in depth questions you’ll get about what the phase of the moon was the day your character encountered the antagonist? You can research that. How about how long it will take your character to become a doctor so you can plan his/her activities and life around earning that degree? You can research that, too. What about the dietary equivalent for the amount of blood in the human body? Yep, that too.
One of my favorite parts of the writing process is the research, mostly because I love to learn. I’m a heavy researcher. I’ll use Google maps to investigate areas I can’t get to, look at house plans to get a better idea of how a character’s home is laid out, check local venues for what shows are playing when, or even Youtube what it’s like to drive a Bugatti Veyron.
Research isn’t just for adding realism; sometimes it’s what inspires a story. Writers have been known to take inspiration from myths and legends, but also from news articles and events. How many times have you opened a paper or saw a story on the internet or TV and thought it begged to have a more elaborate retelling?
Research can be difficult and tedious at times, but it’s oh so rewarding in the end. Here are some helpful tips when researching for your WIP (work in progress):
- Don’t rely on just one source. Wikipedia is great and all, but it’s not the end all, be all. Check other sites for information, especially ones that are specific to your topic or idea.
- Try different search terms. Sometimes, a single word is sufficient and sometimes a whole descriptive sentence works better. Also, broaden/narrow your search. For example, if you’re looking up therianthropes, expand it to shapeshifters, or go even further and look up supernatural beings. Doing either will help to yield the most results. For more information on searching effectively, check out this article from Google support: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/134479?hl=en
- If you have the opportunity, visit the city, park, building, or whatever. It will add so much to your story if you have actually experienced it for yourself. Take for example writing about standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Seeing it in pictures or reading other people’s accounts are helpful, but to be there yourself to feel and hear and live it is a whole other experience.
- If the location is not easily accessible, using interactive maps on the internet is a great resource, especially when you have the ability to use street view. Many times, even after visiting a location, I have found myself utilizing it to reinvigorate my memory or look at it from a different angle.
- Go old-fashion. Head to the library and check out the reference section or archives. Sometimes, reading original material is better than hearsay or summary.
- If your character is a specialist in something, check out autobiographies/biographies written by/about people in the same field. That way, you get a first-hand account.
- Research the everyday. Check fashion magazines or clothing websites for outfit ideas. Look into builder’s websites for floor plans to help envision house layouts. Use vehicle manufacturer sites to get in depth details about size, speed, power, and so forth
- Pin it! Pinterest is a great resource for gathering and storing inspiration and information pertaining to your stories. It helps to organize your thoughts in a different way. It is also a great way to find articles pertaining to specific topics, character inspiration, making visual representations of the people and places in your stories.
When you research, you add another level to your story, which benefits the reader and adds a more complete experience for them. How far you take it is up to you.