Are you struggling with how to get going with your research? Here are a few tried and tested tips that may help you crack on with it. Not all infallible of course, but you have to start somewhere!
1 – and the most immediate and obvious – The Internet! – go anywhere in the world! Meet people, look at photos, read blogs – and this even applies if you’re setting your novel in a fictional town or village that just so happens is similar to the place you live or grew up in, or is perhaps a favourite holiday destination. If you have an idea for a novel, it would be daft not to use the internet – and especially so on a cold wet rainy day. Save the touchy feeling research for when the weather’s better. And sign up for every newsletter going – that way you get find out about free stuff, new stuff, odd stuff.
2 – my favourite – Listen. Or ear-wigg. Or eavesdrop – whatever you want to call it – listen to snippets of conversation and write them down. Anywhere there are people is good for this; in the winter, cafes, supermarkets, cinemas etc. In warmer weather, parks and public spaces. Be alert! And take a notebook and pen. Or dictate – whatever you do, don’t miss the moment. Often random comments can help create a character or even lead to a whole scene you hadn’t even thought about.
3 – Talk. And not always to yourself. Sure, dictate notes into your phone or whatever, but strike up conversation. Some people will give you a wide berth, others will be more than happy to chat. And it’s all research.
4 – Whenever you can, research through reading and observation, both of which are free. Use your library, bookstores and local cafes. In these quiet places you can read to your hearts content. When writing fiction it’s important to read in your genre so that you understand who essentially, you’re writing for. If you want to write crime for example, get ten crime novels from your library, pitch up in a cafe and get scan-reading. If after chapter two of a particular novel you know you don’t like it, make notes as to why – poor use of English? Too much English? Slang? Sentence structure? Knowing how you don’t want to write is great help in defining how you do.
5 – For historical fiction research you have to know your onions because you can absolutely bet your readership will, and they can be very unforgiving if you get it wrong. If you find two conflicting references to the same thing, seek out a third and if you’re still not sure, don’t include it.
6 – Logistics. You must get your logistics right. If you’re following characters a, b and c down a corridor and character d appears from behind a fake palm tree, then the narration immediately has that character following, the reader will want to know how character d suddenly got behind them all without anyone noticing. If you have people on bus seats, make sure the right person stands at the right time for it to make sense in the story.
7- Travel/ing – If you’re writing about a journey on a bus, for example – go on a bus! Feel the seats, smell the smells, see the litter, note the bus driver’s expression or sitting position. All these small details can bring a character to life.
8 – Local Attractions. You don’t have to go globetrotting of course – a trip to the local supermarket can be a deep well of research. Need to take a character to Istanbul or Poland just so they can have something to eat? Check out the international aisle and see what you can buy. Then buy it and take it home and eat it. Experience the taste and flavours. And keep a look out for exhibitions in your locality – museums for example, local art festivals, council-funded displays etc. Much can be found on your doorstep and much of it free.
9 – Getbackto. Write what you need to write and when editing highlight the areas that need clarification through research. Then on a different day, let’s call it A RESEARCH DAY, (snappy huh? yeah I thought so too) you can spend the whole day researching, rather than trying to write and research at the same time and getting so completely distracted that you, literally, lose the plot.
They way you research is personal to you – there’s no right or wrong way. We all learn differently. I know one writer who has different colour pens for each character and when he’s researching something they’d do, he only writes about them in that colour. So do what you will, your way. If you’re new to research it may help to create some questions for your characters to answer to keep you on track. Why doesn’t Edwin like tomato soup, for instance? Does it matter that he doesn’t? It might. Don’t worry about excluding something of course – not all research is relevant and if it’s delivered in clumpy spade-loads, your readers may soon feel they are being told something rather than absorbing it through the narrative and that can be very distracting.
So, done enough research for today? Crack on then!