Top 5 Tips for Researching Your Fiction Novel

I write a lot of my posts according to what I am working on at the time.  Right now I am researching a subject for my sequel’s underlying plot.  I can’t reveal that subject, but it’s AWESOME!  :)

Research is extremely time-consuming but well worth the effort.  After all, you never want to get your facts wrong, even with fiction.


Here are my top 5 tips for researching your novel…

1.  You will inevitably gather loads of interesting facts about the subject you are researching.  Do not use everything you’ve learned.  No reader wants an information dump that shows how much you’ve learned, or how smart you are by using the new jargon.  Include only the most interesting or necessary facts, those elements that will drive your story forward.  And do not allow the research to lead YOU.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the knowledge we’ve gained it’s easy to veer off course.  You are the author!  YOU control where the story goes, not the research.  The story must come first.  Be true to it.

2.  If you are using your research to hint at a character’s activity, then drop clues like tiny breadcrumbs.  There will be time later to write your grand reveal.  In this case, less is more.  In other words, hint at what the antagonist is doing, or what he/she is practicing.  For example, witchcraft, religion, an ancient ritual, etc…

3.  Balance research with imagination.  You want the foundation correct i.e. a certain era, location, etc…  You can’t have an oak tree suddenly have white bark or a pine tree dropping chestnuts.  However, some of the best fiction balances the truth with lies.  Lies as in your story based in truth mixed with creative liberties.  You can have a group of witches, for instance, who practice black magic.  Get your facts straight, then shake things up by giving the group a warped view of what black magic truly is and how it’s done.  No one can say you didn’t do your research because you’ve laid the foundation, but now your story is unpredictable because you took a hard right turn and blew things totally out-of-whack.  That’s good storytelling, not bad research.

4.  As an author, you have an unwritten contract with your reader.  A contract that promises you will be honest and factual about real places, era, and the like.  Get one of those facts wrong and you will probably lose your reader.  And some readers get frustrated that you either ignored the facts or didn’t research the area well enough to know that there is no gate at the entrance of a well-know park entrance.  Nothing infuriates a reader more.  What I do when I mention landmarks or roads that I’m unfamiliar with is to bring up a map of the area.  When I say the detective hung a left on to Elm Street, there better be an Elm Street at that particular intersection.  If the people who live in that town or city read the book– you’re doomed if there isn’t.  Know your setting, get the facts right, and your novel with ring true.


There’s no gate there!

5.  Do not concoct a story about the research.  Let the story evolve naturally using your research to strengthen the plot.  Nothing is worse than a character saying or doing something that’s so out-of-character for them just because the research tells you it must be a certain way.  You will undo all the hard work you’ve done to create that character, showing their temptations, fears, speech pattern, habits.  Don’t now ruin all that because the research says they have to act a certain way.  Example (keeping with the witches theme):  You have already established that one of the witches is southern.  You can’t now have them drop that accent because it sounds funny when they chant or recite a spell.  Be true to the story!

What are some of your favorite ways to research?  Any tips for the rest of us that I missed?

And don’t forget…

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