I’m starting to realize that research isn’t just something you do before you write a novel, while you are conceptualizing the plot. Yes, that is a VERY important step, but you can’t rest on your laurels after that, especially if what you write edges anywhere near historical fiction or has any subject in it about which are not already an expert. Readers know things you’d never expect them to and they know when you’re making stuff up. To quote the movie Pump Up the Volume, they can “smell a lie like a fart in a car.” (Crass, I know, but I bet it made you laugh!) And the last thing you want to do is be disingenuous to your readers.
Like it or not, research is ongoing. It seems like every single day I read or see something that reminds me of some detail I need to double-check in my books. So today I spent several hours in the local library headquarters reading a book in the closed special collection. It made me feel very important that I had to turn in my purse before they’d let me read the book. (Bags of any sort are not allowed because someone might be dumb enough to try to steal a rare book.) It took me a few hours to get through the book and hand write my notes, but it was the most valuable research I’ve done so far. (Lucky for me, it confirmed what I’ve already written, so no major edits needed!) But I also found out details I didn’t think we’re available, so I can now add them in to make my story even richer.
A lot of times when we write we get so caught up in the process we just make stuff up or go with what seems right, but at some point before any agents or publishers see it, we have to make sure those things are correct. So, what are you doing on your Saturday night? I’m going through the pile of about 15 books the library let me check out. Some people would call that sad, but I call it fun (now do you believe I’m a dork?). It’s an investment in my future. By the way, if you’re curious about my sources, I’ve added a research page to this blog so you can see them for yourself. Those 15 new ones aren’t included because I don’t know which I’ll end up using, but I’ll update the page as new sources come along.
And all this is really just for the first two books. The third book involves another culture I’ve only had to have a cursory understanding of so far. That means more trips to the library and more books once I finish writing the second book. And the fourth book takes place (mostly) in another country, so I don’t even want to think about how long it’s going to take me to learn its geography, culture, laws, etc. But I love learning, so I don’t consider this a hardship.
One word of advice to anyone doing research: don’t trust the Internet. (Okay, that was four words.) Anyone can put anything out there. The Internet isn’t all bad; there are some trustworthy sites and they aren’t a bad place to start, but I always try to verify information in a book or at least find two or three credible websites that corroborate whatever fact I’m looking at if I’m going to rely on the Internet. And no, Wikipedia is not a credible source.
Wow, I feel like I’ve just taught a Research 101 class. Well, my mom has always said I’m going to end up as a professor someday, so I guess now’s a good time to start practicing! And if you need me, just look under that pile of books on the couch. I’m in there somewhere.
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