Researching for your Novel

I called my mom not too long ago. We exchanged the usual pleasantries (How is everything on your end? How are the kids?), then I moved forward with a “So mom, I have a quick question for you.”

By now, my mom has learned to approach this transition with a very open mind.

Today, I followed up my intro with “So, how long would it likely take for the heart to stop beating during drowning, and how would they treat a survivor in the ER?”

We just have that kind of relationship.

She laughed and answered my questions. Then I kept going, asking about how long it takes to heal from serious burns, and it got real fun.

I’ve always wondered what kind of lists my google search history might land me on. From ‘the deadliest poisons’, to ‘where is the most painful place to be shot’, to ‘the effects of long-term sensory deprivation torture’, I’d be shocked if I’m not listed on something somewhere.

Needless to say, research is very important to me in crafting my stories.

I think most authors are in the same boat, with an equally colorful search history. Who else could legitimately look up ideas about ‘how to murder someone and get away with it’, without malicious intent?

(On a side note, more disturbing than the search history itself, I think, is that the answers are readily accessible. Think about that for a minute…)

Research is the backbone of a successful story. Sure, you can fly by the seat of your pants and churn out an entertaining tale. But, the moment someone who knows what they’re talking about reads your work, they’re torn directly from your carefully constructed immersion and -depending on how bad it is- have trouble finding it again. Not gonna lie, there have been books I’ve read where I had to pause on a detail and swallow an ‘Um… no.’ It ruined all the momentum I gained in the story. Not what an author wants.

If you’re not already in the habit of researching the points you include, I urge you to start. No one expects you to be an expert in every field. But a certain amount of genuine understanding leaves its mark.

We live in the age of information, so there are tons (tons!) of sources for research.

Wikipedia

People have differing views of Wikipedia. I mention it first due to its accessibility and scope. Note, I don’t necessarily say accuracy. Not to say it’s filled with lies, in fact a lot of the info you’ll find on Wikipedia is great. BUT, you must take it with a grain of salt. Especially for more obscure topics. Remember that the content is often user written, so it contains the wisdom of the armchair experts of the world. Not necessarily bad, but definitely to be taken with some thought.

That being said, I love Wikipedia. I am one of the people that donate to Wikipedia whenever those very sad banners show up at the top of my screen. It has tons of information about every subject, and as I said, most of it is good. It’s a great place to start.

Use Wikipedia to get a feel for what you’re looking into. Make notes and narrow in on the aspects you want to use. From there, settle in to dig deeper.

Expert Texts     

There are a shocking number of books online for perusal. Textbooks and essays, theses and studies. Most of these I’ve found have been in isolated searches, but with a bit of digging, they inevitably present themselves. I’ve even stumbled across a pdf textbook about Babylonian Sorcery, including cuneiform translations and diagrams.

The downside of this is that it can take more time. You likely don’t have the time to read an entire textbook about King Richard I, but even skimming for the details takes time. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes not. But the resources are there.

Direct Questions

Use the people in your life. They know things you may not. I ask my mom for information about drowning and burns, because she was a practicing nurse and I know she knows her stuff. Everyone has experts around them in various fields. Use them! You’ll get the most genuine, experiential information, which is worth more than every other kind of research combined.

Multiple Opinions

With the flood of information surrounding us, sometimes it’s hard to tell what is right and what is hearsay.  Sometimes the best thing you can do it seek another source, then another, then another. Find the line where the information overlaps and run with it.

As I said before, no one expects you to be an expert in every field. Often, a consensus of facts can be enough to fill in the gaps for a work of fiction.

There are other sources, of course: The library, local universities and colleges, hell – documentaries on YouTube. Ultimately, keep digging until you have a solid enough grasp of your subject to write. Only you will know where that line is. Well, you and your annoyingly well-informed readers.

Do your best to present a thought out, accurate approach to a subject, and whatever that subject is, treat it with the respect it deserves.

If you’ve done that, your own expert crafting of the surrounding words will bring that subject to life.

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