Monday, October 22, 2012

Keys to Great Research you want to be a writer, it's important to do your research. Research, after all, is a cornerstone of any great writing endeavor. Don't believe me? Okay... but I'm not responsible for any baldness that may occur.

Why Research
Its important to give yourself the time to do your research, because research is writing time too. Your word count may not be piling up, but you are making it easier to write once you do set pen to paper. Why? Because doing your research prevents the urge to stop writing and find that necessary detail.

Don't go there, my friend. That way lies madness.

Sure it might seem mundane at first, but toddle off to look up a name or random fact, and you're down the research hole for a couple hours. And how many words would you have been able to write during that lost time? Like the sucker commercial says, the world may never know.

So here are my recommendations for three of the most important things to research before you start that novel.

Maps are important for me because they get me into the environment. Even though I only do a rough outline before I begin a book, I scout out location for my scenes. When I find a city, I print off or buy a map of that area. Then I work the scenes there through my mind by putting myself into the map and walking the street. Nowadays this is actually even easier with Google Maps and Google Earth because you can usually get photos of your location.

Writing a story about somewhere not of this world? You can still find places on Earth for inspiration. But if you're making someplace specific, draw the map yourself. It doesn't have to be Rand McNally quality, just something to get you into the scene and understand the environment your characters will be experiencing.

Character details pop up on me all the time during my writing, but spending a little time researching each major character will prevent timely delays. For me, these include head shots I've grabbed from the internet. If you want to develop your characters I recommend a few books for suggestions:
And once you have notes on each character, it's always easy to add new elements to them when you discover new details.

Writing a story about nano particles? Archery? Fashion? Sumo wrestling? Better do your research first.

The old axiom, 'write what you know,' doesn't mean crap if you're writing about a generation ship flying to a distant galaxy. But that doesn't mean you can't find a host of research about what life on a generation ship would be like. I have three places that I love to go to for research:
  • The Internet
  • Local Library
  • iTunes Podcasts
You have to double check any information you find on the internet, but hey, we're writers so we make stuff up all the time. Just make sure you're little lie has a pound of truth in it or it won't ring anywhere near true.

Podcasts are invaluable for numerous reasons. Besides the obvious fact of listening in to your desired community, you can pick up accents and turn-of-phrases that your characters might be able to use.

Ultimately, there's a lot to see out there. You just need to decide how to use it.

Building Your Research Tracker
So you know what you need to research, now all you need is a way to track the research you do, as well as the topics you miss during your initial pass. Something will always slip through, and that's okay. The key is not to interrupt your writing for the research hole.

Making a research tracker is easy and you can tweak it to your own specific needs. I picked up mine from Victoria Schmidt's, Book in a Month. And whether you write it in a notepad or make sheet in your word processor, the end result is the same. Start by putting the working title of your current work in progress at the top, because someday, when you've written forty books, you're going to want to know which book these notes went to.

A good research tracker needs three elements:
  • The topic to research
  • What to look for
  • Your findings
Make three columns for each category and wait for the questions to pop into your head. And they will come. But just keeping this little form near your writing area will stop you from straying away from your words per minute... provided you have the discipline to use it.

That's it! Pretty simple, huh? Now you're ready for doing your own stellar research. Do you have a research technique that's invaluable to you? Have you found something that stops you from dropping down the research hole when you should be writing?


  1. Great tips! I didn't think to use Google Earth. That's an accurate source when trying to write a description of an area.

    I have the book Novel in a Month. I'm finding it very helpful in keeping my notes on plot and characters organized.

  2. Very good tips. My WIP required a fair amount of research to keep details, names, locations, settings believable and accurate. Yes, I looked at a map too, just to get a visual. Readers are smart! They know when something is implausible or not accurate. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  3. How is your writing coming along, Tony?

  4. The writing is moving along, Taffy. I'm bogged down in rewrites for my 1st novel, but I thought I'd let it compost before the next pass and do NaNoWriMo. I'm going to be working on a project with Daron Fraley.
    Check it out at:

  5. Nice post. I found you from Julie's blog. Hope I am welcome here.

    I never thought of pod casts before. I am not a technological genius but it is a great idea.


  6. Everybody is welcome here Rob! Thanks for stopping by an leaving a comment.

    I started doing some podcasts from Ireland when I was doing research on my past book. When I mentioned it to my writing group, they were pleasantly surprised at the notion and I realized I'd found an undiscovered resource for writers.

  7. Stop showing off Tony. Sheesh. Some of us just make crap up when we write. Pretty sure that Ireland is by Ohio, right?


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