How to Do Research for a Novel

writing, how to, books, novels, plotting, plot, romance, Regency, research



Research, for me, is not an onerous task. When I’m ready to start writing about a particular time period, I can’t wait to go to the library, pull every book available on that era off the shelf, take them home and lose myself in a time period. However, research isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can be overwhelming deciding where to begin, what to look for and when to stop. Today, I want to offer some advice and a few suggestions for getting started and seeing it through until “The End.”

The first thing to do is…

Start Big: You know what era you want to write about, so it’s time to learn about the era. General overview books are a great place to start because they give you the key politics, ideas, people and events that helped shape the time period. Once you know the basics, you can begin to…

Narrow things down: Decide when in the era you want your story to take place then focus your research accordingly. In my Regency novel, Engagement of Convenience, I needed the heroine’s brother to be injured at the Battle of Trafalgar and then arrive back home from the battle before the end of the story. As a result, I did a great deal of research on the particulars of the battle, especially which ships first brought news of the battle back to England. Details like this are important since they helped me craft scenes and add to the historical realism of the story. So once you’re done narrowing things down, it’s time to...

Get personal: The details of everyday life help create characters, make them real and flavor a narrative. To make the Regency period come alive in the story, I researched everyday life including dress, food, furniture and the plans of both London town houses and country manor houses. I sprinkled these details throughout the story to help make the setting come alive and draw the reader into the time period. However, be careful with how much historic detail you add to your story. Too much will make it read like a college mid-term instead of a sweeping saga. So, what happens when the research you need isn’t there? Well, it’s time to…

Think outside the box: Depending on what time period you’re dealing with, or what obscure historical event you’re trying to incorporate into your story, you may or may not have a wealth of information to draw from. This is when it’s time to start looking at primary sources like journals, autobiographies and even government reports. These writings will give you more detail on a subject than a general history book will and most are in the public domain and available free on Amazon. It’s time consuming but worth it, even though at some point you're going to have to…

Know when to say when: Research can be fun. It can help you outline your story or navigate a tricky plot point. However, it can also distract from writing. There is no end to the research available or the hours you can dedicate to it. It’s an important part of the process, but so is sitting down and getting words on paper. So, don’t be afraid to put your research aside and start writing, because the great thing about research is, you can access it any time and you can always do more.

If you like using research in novels, check out my novels because I do a lot of research for them www.Georgie-Lee.com.

For more tips on research, check out these posts herehere and here

5 comments:

Sally Orr said...

Great post Georgie.

Marianne Kearns said...

You'll probly do a lil LESS research on your best-selling-novel withis...

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multitaskingmissus said...

This is great! I've written a novel in the past. But, I didn't know where to start for my next one. This outline is a good place for me to start.

Nikki Frank-Hamilton said...

What a great article. I don't write books, but I love to do research for posts on my blog. I really get into finding others who feel the same way, or even offer a differing opinion. I save all of the articles to a Pinterest board so that others can look at the research if they are so inclined.

Starting out Big and then narrowing it down is the way I go about it, and I always seem to learn new tricks or ways of doing things, which open up my mind and I learn new things.

Ashley Hennefer said...

Hey Georgie! Big fan of your writing! I just came across this post, and I'm a researcher who works with writers for exactly this reason. I'd love to work with you should you ever need research assistance! My website is ashleywarrenresearch.com. Cheers!