The story’s magic is in the details, and details come from good research.
It may seem like common sense that a writer should and must do research for any story containing experiences or places the author has not experienced. However, it can be a step that is sometimes skipped in favor of just getting the story written. No matter what genre you are writing, this is a mistake.
When I first started writing, I was straight up romance all the time. In that vein, my shelves were lined with romance novels not only because I loved to read them, but also as research for what I was writing. The novels provided me what I needed for research. I learned which tropes I hated and vowed to avoid as well as those I loved and planned to use. I learned the beats of a romance that way.
When I switched genres from romance to horror and paranormal, I had to change my research methods and materials as well. While I still have shelves of romance novels, now I have a bookshelf dedicated to writing research and lined with books on mythology, witchcraft, the history of murder, Irish folklore and so much more. These books are important to my craft and are lined with sticky notes and tabs, penciled in scribbles and the odd story nugget here and there.
The thing about genre specific research is it varies. And while those variations are sometimes microscopic, they also can be huge. The scope of your research will vary. No matter how much research you do, the important thing is for you to be as accurate and in depth as you can. For me this means not relying solely on one medium.
Yes, the internet is a great thing. Google and Wikipedia are your friends, but not the only ones. Let us not forget the library. A true friend to a writer. And a writer owned library (if possible) is even better. While many veteran writers may suggest that you start your writing library with craft books, I strongly believe research books are an important buy for a writer as well.
You can’t believe everything you read…
Though the internet is convenient, we all know we can’t believe everything we read on it. Wikipedia is super helpful, but since it is curated by the public, it is not always 100% accurate. So when doing research, whether it’s as wide a topic as clothing worn in the 1800s to something more specific such as the most well recognizable supplier of chloroform in 1875, just be sure to double check. Triple check even.
As writers, we share our work with readers. As a whole, the general public is a smart entity that wants to know that before you wrote those words, you did the leg work. This is when the library or the bookstore can come in handy. Finding multiple books on the subject you are researching will help to ensure that you have the proper information you need to write true to your subject matter.
Now I’m not bashing the internet at all. It is convenient, and I use it often. If a library is not accessible, but the internet is, there are other options aside from Wikipedia. Here are some of my favorite.
Other Online Resources:
The Library of Congress – website
The “ask a librarian” feature is fantastic here and can help if you are stuck on a particular research topic.
Smithsonian Institution – website
They have a lot of information about animals and foliage local to whatever area you are writing about. Also, the Smithsonian Libraries and Galaxy of Knowledge is a fantastic feature on this site.
The British Library – website
If you are writing about England at all, this site has a lot of resources. It goes back a fair way and has a wide array of information.
Whichever genre you write in will most likely dictate how you do your genre specific research. If you are writing romance then romance novels are a good way to go. Though there are books on writing romance and the beats you need and the arcs you should follow, these are more craft than story. If you are writing about serial killers in 1800’s London, then researching the time period is the way to go. And this is where the library, the bookstore and the internet are your friend. A mixture of all three will give you your best shot at writing your best, most historically accurate story.
As a writer, it is our job to transport our readers into our stories, proper genre specific research is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. Please take the time and do your research, it really does matter.
Sheri Williams is an author who laughs in the face of genre. She always knew she would be a romance author one day, until she found the macabre that lives in her heart and her brain. Equally as comfortable in her own imagination as she is in the real world, she finds inspiration everywhere. Her stories range from light to dark, then very dark, but always with a touch of romance.
Sheri is a wife and a mom, which bring her great joy. She is also a geek and an avid Netflix binger, which also brings great joy. She always has multiple projects on her plate and if you want to stay up to date, be sure to sign up for the newsletter on her website. You can also follow her author page on fb, on twitter, pinterest and Google+