One of my favorite things about writing is having built-in motivation to educate myself on unfamiliar topics and learn about new and exciting things. But for many writers, research is a task of drudgery, and most have absolutely no idea what they’re looking for or where to start. Your process will depend largely on what it is you’re researching, but I thought I’d share what I feel are big myths regarding fiction research, based on the research I’m doing for my current novel.
Myth 1: Research is endless Googling
Don’t get me wrong. I love Google, and Google is the best place to start if you know absolutely nothing about a topic. But after a while, filtering through web pages, bookmarking, taking notes…it all starts to feel very…academic. It starts to feel like you’re gathering sources for a research paper. For me, I spend so much time on my computer when I’m actually writing my fiction, so if I can find ways to get away from the computer when I’m brainstorming, outlining, and researching, all the better.
There are likely lots of little things you Google to help clear things up, but if you’re writing a novel about a general topic that you know very little about - a mental illness, a type of profession, a technology or science, a historical time period, ect., find a book.
And I’m not talking about a giant textbook, or a book with lots of footnotes, or even a book with an index and a glossary. I’m talking about nonfiction that actually discusses the topic, as opposed to just teaching it. While a field of science can be very technical, there also may be a number of sociological debates surrounding it, and that’s good information to have when you’re writing a story about people that may or may not understand and embrace that branch of science you’re discussing.
Nonfiction on a historical time period might give you more about the day-to-day lives of the people, and may even have anecdotes and hypothetical stories based on historical fact, all of which will make it more relatable and interesting.
Ordinarily, judging books by their covers is a bad idea, but try to find books that are small and that have engaging covers. Go to a library, find the section that houses your topic and just start browsing for something.
I love reading nonfiction as a means of research. I have more fun reading a few comprehensive books on a topic than clicking through hundreds of search results. Because each book has one author, I’m able to settle into that author’s style, and the flow from one chapter to the next ensures that I’m more engaged with the content. Plus, I can do it on my couch or in bed without a bulky laptop on my legs.
I’ve also gotten great ideas to fill plot holes just by reading nonfiction. That’s research at its best.
Myth 2: Research is all reading.
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