Researching Your Novel

Researching a novel is tough. We’ve all been there at some point and we know how mind-melting it can be to sit for hours just to figure out the intricacies of certain ecosystems, the process of cell division and/or the migration periods of geese. Although it’s hard, if you want your story to be convincing, you MUST MUST do the research.

“But Naked, how do I research my novel?” you might ask. And I have the answer.

Begin with your idea.

That’s the best advice I can give you. If you take your entire plot and try to research the whole thing all at once, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. Once you have your idea, then you can begin researching. An idea could mean a timeline, an event, a historical figure, a single scene, or any number of things.

Take it one step at a time.

The age old sage advice still stands on rickety knees. And if you can hear them creaking, don’t panic.

The first step is to pick one aspect of your story that you aren’t sure about, and look it up. Now this is very important. One. Step.

Not the whole book. At least not all at once.

Yes, you may have a genius idea for a novel about an alien life form who crash lands in the Canadian wilderness and spreads a new disease to the most populated places in North America, all during the coldest winter in American/Canadian history–but you can’t figure all that out at once.

Which Canadian forest will the alien land? What disease would cause the amount of damage you’re envisioning? What constitutes the territories of North America? What was the coldest winter in American/Canadian history?

One. Step. At. A. Time. Slowly but surely, you’ll get all the info you need in order to get the wheels of the choo-choo going.

“But Naked, what do I use to research my novel?” Books? Internet? Magazines? Word of mouth? It’s more than likely that the information you need won’t all be in one place. But don’t thee despair. The hunt can be as titillating as the writing itself. Yes, ye of disbelief, I did in fact just use the word titillating.

Use the most convenient and reliable source. 

There are so many options for the truth seekers out there, but which one is the best for your amazing writerly self?

All of them and any of them.

If you’re writing a time travel story about someone who appears in the Middle Ages, and you just happen to have a bookshelf full of Medieval history books (ahem, me) then ye should make adequate usage of them!

But if you’re a normal human being (ahem, not me) with an assortment of novels and the like on your shelves, use whatever is the most convenient source of reliable information available to you. That could mean spending a couple of hours at your local library, looking up the dates of the most devastating fires in Medieval London. Or it could mean scouring the internet for plausible causes of vampirism, werewolfism, mermaidism or the possible fallout of a rapid infection of avian flu on the homeless population of Chicago. All fascinating subjects. And all available at the turn of the page, the click of the mouse, or from a long, scintillating conversation with a mythical creature. It’s all up to you.

Keep track of your research. 

Now that you’re an expert on North America’s weather in the year 1936–Canada’s coldest winter–you might want to consider consolidating your research. Actually, I take that back.

Don’t consider it.

Do it.

It is very important to keep track of the fascinating facts you’ve learned, to prevent you from forgetting all the best bits. It also saves valuable time. You don’t need to be wasting a single moment hunting for something that’s already been found. That’s just…overkill.

Stay organized.

Keeping track isn’t enough. It’s bad form to research all of the important plot points in your novel and then throw those hours of work into a file without any semblance of order.

Disorganized research can slow down the writing process. So, stay organized! Label your research by date, by chapter, by subject–or all of the above–to make sure that you are on top of the facts.

You can bookmark websites, photocopy pages from books, or type up all of the information you’ve gathered and save it on a flashdrive. Saving and organizing your research will keep the information at your fingertips throughout the writing and editing process. It’s so much faster. So just do it, okay?

And don’t forget the three most important rules:

Be confident. Be imaginative. Be a writer.

Map of London circa 1300

A map I found on the internet during my epic dive into the Medieval world.


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