Research: How To Pick & Choose Sources To Tell A Story Convincingly
Why do you need research if you are creating a made-up story world?
It depends on your genre, but in most cases, you do need to ground your fiction in some kind of recognizable reality so the reader can relate to the characters and the story.
• Research your own genre by finding comparable books.
• The techniques of journalism. The six questions, who, what, when, where, how, why.
Who: Your characters – your imagination
What they do: Your imagination + some research. First, the main character has to want something. The story is when something happens to prevent that, which leads the character to solve a problem. You have to create conflict, and with some research, you can make this believable and yet original.
How they do it: Your imagination, but I strongly suggest researching the how, especially if you are writing mystery, crime, a thriller. Your characters live in a world and presumably have passions and professions. For my novel, Lipstick on the Strawberry, I had to learn about the world of professional catering.
When: If you are writing about any time but the present, you’ll need to research the era.
Where: This is your setting. Usually can be conjured from memory and/or imagination, but can be improved by photographs, maps, learning the history of the place you are writing about.
Why: Your imagination, and possibly some research. The why makes a plot believable, makes characters come alive. If you don’t understand your characters’ motivations, your readers won’t either. If you need to flesh out why your characters have misperceptions that make them act as they do, you might bolster your imagination by reading psychology, child development, history.
• If you want to write for the market, find out what the market wants. You could start by researching agents. Research within your genre, noting the length of the book, number of characters, point of view, and whether the plot is more important than the story or vice versa.
• Find a way to organize the research that works for you. An electronic file, notebooks, clippings, 3 ring binders – everyone works differently.
• Brainstorm using newspaper articles, pictures from Pinterest or photo services, and read, read, read!
• Verify. Depending on your genre, you will probably need to consult with experts.
• Resources. Wikipedia is just the start. Do not rely on it!
For academic research, join The Authors’ Guild for discounts on JStor, the online academic library. https://www.theauthorsguild.org
For ideas for stories, subscribe to a news or news summary services such as researchbuzz.me, https://rbfirehose.com, or feedspot.com https://www.feedspot.com
For deep research, you could try something designed for librarians, http://www.researchinglibrarian.com
For historical research, the U.S. Government archives are a treasure trove, https://www.archives.gov
To choose a character name from a particular period, go to https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/
To research how the younger generation speaks, go to https://www.urbandictionary.com/
To research or verify information from an expert, join an organization that offers it. For example, The Women Fiction Writers Association has an “Expert Finder” section. https://www.womenfictionwriters.org
To research crime, join one of the local Sisters in Crime organizations, Desert Sleuths and/or Grand Canyon Writers. They offer a ton of resources. https://www.sistersincrime.org and local chapters www.desertsleuths.com, or http://www.grandcanyonwriters.com.
To research an unusual hobby or pastime, search the internet for a local organization. Then visit with them.
I loved doing the research for this book. Trees do communicate! I started off inspired by Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire, about the amazing power of plants. Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory made me think about how we carelessly destroy forests, which, emitting oxygen, we need to breathe. All kinds of thoughts bounced around in my head about idealists who want to make a better world and the cost of doing so. And so Joyous Lies was born.