Linda, thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics, research. Historical and contemporary authors have to do research, it's a fact of life, but how do I go about doing it? Well, here are some hints, learned over nearly thirty years of writing and making a lot of mistake. So -- let's get to it.
If you write Science fiction, fantasy or even paranormal romance you don't have as much of a problem as the rest of us. Researching the customs, events, or location isn't difficult when you can create your world, or your creatures. However, for the rest of us trying to deal with real world, it's not that easy. We face the need for research.
Unfortunately, if you make a glaring mistake, believe me there is someone out there who will read your book and discredit your prose because you made a mistake. Rumor has it that a romance writer included a breed of horse in one of her westerns that didn't exist at the time of her novel. A horse enthusiast spread the word the author couldn't be trusted to write a decent novel and the author's career was ruined. I can't vouch for the story, but if it's true, it's enough to give an author chills.
Most of us try very hard to get the facts right. So how do we do it.
I love encyclopedias. And with the internet we have a great deal of information available now that we couldn't access as easily when we had to find in books we barrowed from the library or bought what we wanted to know. You can still go to the library, but it takes a tremendous amount of time to find one piece of information. You can still buy books, but it's discouraging to buy a book only to find what you wanted wasn't in it. However, the internet has changed the way most of us research.
So when using the internet, always verify the information with at least two dependable, independent sources. Better yet, find three sources with the same information. That will usually indicate the facts you have are correct. If you think what you've found is questionable, make a note of the date of the site and the url and keep it with whatever information you've gathered. I use a notebook for each novel with a section for research and I stash my notes there.
Authorities are great. When I wanted information about a particular hurricane of the nineteenth century -- indication from what direction it came, how long the eye would have lasted, (that kind of info) I called a professional meteorologist. Then I talked to someone who had been through a hurricane. Not surprisingly, both people were delighted to talk about their knowledge or their experience. When I needed information on what kind of rifle would be carried and how to shot the thing, I asked a gun collector who was renowned for his knowledge. Again, he too, was more than happy to explain what I needed to know. So don't be afraid to approach the person who might have information you need. I even involved my medical doctor, asking what a certain type of injury would affect a person's available to walk. It also gave me a chance to promote my newest book.
Books, especially journals and autobiographies can provide great information, especially if you are writing a historical novel or romance. Don't discount newspaper articles either. I hesitate using the expertise of another fiction author unless I know something about that individual's researching techniques. Time lines work well if your story involves related events.
Last, if you are trying to describe a location, traveling to the site is the best method to use. However, if you can't go, or the area has changed a great deal because of time or condition, again 'Google maps' or old maps can help. Sometimes you can discover the needed description in journals or newspaper reports which will give clues. But be careful. Twice, I made glaring mistakes about location. In the first, I had the wrong army starting the battle and in the second I describe a location as level farm land when in reality the area was mountainous. In both instances, I caught the mistakes before the books went to the editor. So be sure and check your facts, several times if you can't visit the location.
If you make up a location, even though your publisher will probably add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book, it's a good idea to check and make sure the place doesn't exist.
And, it's not a bad idea to add your own disclaimer to either the beginning of the end of the book letting your editor know you have checked the fact.
Researching a novel can often seem like putting puzzle pieces together to make a whole, and it can be as addictive as fitting a puzzle together. It's part of what makes writing historicals such fun for me.
It seemed - “Cows did fly!”
Since that time, Allison has written and published seventeen romances for both digital and NY publishers with a digital valentine novella coming out in February. Her current work is another medieval book from her 'song' series.
Because she loves to share her knowledge and her love of romance novels she often blogs with other authors. She also loves to talk about the growing digital market.
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