What to Research when Writing Your Novel

What to Research when Writing Your Novel
July 18, 2017 1 Comment Writing Advice J.K. Allen

This month we are talking about research. As fiction writers it can be really tempting to just make up what we don’t know. But having realistic information and details in your story will help the reader suspend disbelief and get immersed in your story. One incorrect, made-up detail could cause your reader to put down your book and never pick it up again. So let’s talk about some different things to research to get it right.

Setting. Setting is an integral part of your story, grounding your tale for your reader in time and place. Setting can often times even act as another character in your story, as is the case in urban fantasy. So it’s important to get it right. If you are writing about a real life place, do your research. Get to know the major landmarks, scenery, and landscapes. Research things like climate and average temperatures for the season. Even if you are writing in a made-up story world, you need to have a basis in reality. So if you’re describing a space colony on Mars, look up the planet’s geography and other colonial setups.

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Culture. Culture is a broad topic, but one that is important for characterization. It will affect your characters and be a big part of who they are. Culture covers things like social conventions and norms, food, and clothing. If you are writing about a real life culture, make sure you portray them accurately and respectfully. Describe the culture using all five senses. Go out and try their cuisine, research their traditional costumes, and listen to traditional and popular music. Watch popular t.v. shows and movies to learn about that culture’s daily life and customs. If you are writing about a made-up culture, you can add realism by basing it off of real cultures, modern or historical.

Religion and philosophy. What your character believes in will greatly shape them and affect their actions. Whether your character is a hindu or a nihilist, you’ll need to understand what they believe in and why. It’s crucial to do your research so you can accurately portray their religion and philosophical beliefs. Once again, you’ll want to remain respectful of different beliefs and not rely on stereotypes or clichés. Make sure you fully understand what you’re representing.

Occupation. There are thousands of different occupations in the world and each one has different strengths and expertise. You’ll need to understand the details involved in each job. For instance, if your character is a priest, you’ll need to know common prayers and basic tenets of his beliefs. If she is a lawyer, you’ll need to know courtroom procedure and common objections. Knowing these details will add authenticity to your story.

Hobbies. Much like occupation, you’ll want to know about what your character does in their free time. If he paints, familiarize yourself with paint colors and the difference between oil and acrylic paints. If she’s a poet, learn different styles of poetry, like sonnet, pantoum, and villanelle.

Language. This is especially important if you’re writing in a specific time period, like Regency England or the 20s. Diction and accents change depending on where your character hails from, so it’s important to do your research to get it right. Terms and slang are also something you’ll need to know to write accurately for a time period. The last thing you want to do is have anachronistic dialogue.

History. History is very important in shaping the present. Also, if you’re writing a specific time period, it’s crucial you capture that point in history. This includes important events, whether current or past, and famous figures. Who matters in this time and why? What events have shaped the present? What important wars or policies?

Research for these details and watch your story come to life. What is your favorite thing to research for? Share below and happy researching!

Julia

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
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    Researching Secondary Characters - OWS Ink, LLC

    […] month we have been talking all about research. What to look for, where to look, how to stay off FBI watch lists (haha just kidding, that’s unavoidable). For […]

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