Does the thought of doing research for your novel or memoir fill you with dread? Do you put it off until you have gaping holes in your story or abandon your idea altogether? Never fear! Research for your novel can be fun.
First, think about what kind of information your story needs. Maybe you’d like to include a few setting details to round out a minor location in your story or you’re unfamiliar with a skill your character has. Here are a few suggestions to help make light research for your novel fun by exploring some “unofficial” resources. Next time, we’ll discuss tips for stories that require more intensive research.
Fun Ways to Research Your Novel or Memoir
1. Try a Google image or a Pinterest board search. Has this happened to you? Suddenly your character decides she’s getting on the next flight to Santiago, Chile. You’ve never been to Santiago. What are some of the general features of the city? Is it lush, coastal, desert, mountainous? All of the above? A quick image search can offer some basics and help you decide if your character should go there after all.
Pro Tip: The street view of Google Maps is incredibly helpful for real-life, non touristy images of a location.
2. Check in with people near you. The main character in one of my short stories worked at a flower stall on a subway station platform. Initially, this character didn’t know much about flowers, but he became a sort of flower guru to his regular customers. I needed to expand his (and my) knowledge, but I wasn’t looking for an in-depth book on gardening. My neighbor was a landscape architect and he was happy to answer a few questions. Your friends, relatives or local business owners would love to help a writer doing research. Find out what they find exciting about this topic. What got them interested in it?
Pro Tip: Reddit has sections (called subreddits) on every topic under the sun. You can scroll through existing posts for previous discussions, or post a new question.
3. Read a book. On the other hand, you may realize that a passing knowledge of a topic just isn’t enough. If you need to have a fundamental understanding, try a how-to book. This is especially useful when your character has skills that you don’t possess. Your character scuba dives or knits or plays chess or… Whatever it is, there is a how-to guide to do it.
Pro Tip: The For Dummies or Complete Idiot’s Guides are very useful resources. They offer beginner-level guidance with enough detail to help you learn the lingo and equipment.
4. Use your senses. What if one of your characters spent a significant amount of time in another country or a location unfamiliar to you? An image search of that location (see number one above) will only get you so far. To bring another layer to your descriptions, call on your other senses. Maybe you can go to a Russian restaurant in your town to capture some of the flavors of the cuisine. Or listen to recordings of people speaking Farsi to convey the tone and pitch of the language.
Pro Tip: This is especially helpful for those of you writing memoir.
5. Catch a demo. One of my important minor characters was a glass blower. He was a well respected craftsman with his own studio. It was important to see the process of glass blowing in action. I was able to watch a free demo hosted by a studio near me. If you need to see how a specific process unfolds step-by-step, many associations or artist studios offer free or low-cost demos. Bonus: the experts will often take questions!
Pro Tip: Can’t get to a demo in person? You can probably find a similar version on YouTube.
Do you have any suggestions for unusual ways to research your novel or memoir? Please leave a comment.
In my next post, we’ll discuss suggestions for stories that require more intensive research.
Did you know my course is now available on demand? Writing About Place: Five Days to Immersive Setting is ready whenever you are! Learn more here.