What information do you need to know when researching novels?
When you’re a writer, there are times when you want to write about something that you have no knowledge about. That’s okay, because there’s a little thing called the internet that can help you research this information. The question remains: how much research is enough research?
Many times when I’m writing, all I have to do is a little Google search to create a fuller effect of the scene or characters I’m creating. If it’s not the main aspect of the story, I only need a few key details to make it seem like I’m an expert at what I’m portraying at that point in the story.
Here’s an example of when and how you might want to do minor research:
In a story, you want to vary the types of things people do for a living. If everyone in your story and every story you write is a mechanic, that’s unrealistic unless the story revolves around a family of mechanics.
If a minor character is a doctor, for example, you can do as much research as you want about that career. It all depends on what you believe will make the story well-rounded. The more you know the better, but you don’t want to be adding useless details just because you have that knowledge now.
Start with the classic trick: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How
Look at your character and ask these questions to figure out what you and the reader will need to know.
Who is your character?
What is their career and purpose to the story?
When/how often do they appear?
Where are they leading the story?
Why do they need to be in the story?
How is the character interacting with others?
These questions, among others, can help you understand what you do and don’t know. Try a Google search, or ask someone who knows the right answers.
The same logic can be applied to setting, like points in history. Apply what you already know, and uncover where there are holes in your knowledge that are necessary to fill out the story. If you are discussing a real historic event or time in history, you’ll have to do more research if you want to stay accurate.
Sometimes you’ll need to fully research a subject to the point where you can have a detailed conversation with someone about it. You must do major research when your topic is the central focus of the story. It won’t cut it to do quick searches here and there.
Take out books, read articles, and do whatever else is appropriate for the topic. Obviously, it would take too long to become an expert, but you have to know enough to be confident discussing it in the story.
Here’s an example of the need for major research. My friend and I are planning to work on a children’s book series where one of the main characters has autism. Since this is a central theme, I need to do research. My friend works with kids that have special needs, so she has plenty of experience, but I need to have a better understanding on the topic.
One way to simplify the research process is to write down a list of questions. To extend my example, I might ask questions such as:
What are the behaviour patterns of someone with autism?
What causes autism?
Can people with autism live quality lives?
These are just a few example questions out of thousands I could ask. I will never be an expert on the topic, but I must have a well-rounded understanding if I’m going to portray the character with the least amount of stereotypes or misconceptions as possible.
Your Own Judgement
The level of research you do depends on the magnitude of the topic’s involvement in the story and your own understanding. It’s your choice how much you want to look up, and you might do more than necessary out of curiosity.
Research is important, and it’s up to you to decide how well you need to understand it to include it in your novel. If you or the reader is left with too many questions or misinformation about what’s going on, you may need more time with your research hat on.
Thanks for reading! What are some of your tips for researching novels?
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