Friday, November 30, 2012

Author Allison Knight Talks About Research

This week author Allison Knight has graciously agreed to share with us her thoughts on the role of research in writing fiction.

Research, Research, Research

I learned a long time ago, 'cause I've been at this for a long time, that research was a necessary evil.

Why do I call it an evil?  Because, if you're like me, you get caught up in the research and your writing time has disappeared. When I had to go to the library and spent hours finding books, or copying material, it took even longer, but today we have the internet and that saves hours.

So, I thought I'd give you a few hints on some of the things I've discovered about research, be it historical romance or contemporary romance. I know the people who write suspense and mainstream may also discover some helpful hints here too but since I don't read or write paranormal, fantasy or scfi, I'm afraid I can't be much help there.

So here goes!

With romance novels, I discovered the first thing I needed to know was the lay of the land. I certainly can't travel through every part of  the places I write about, any if I  could get there, or had already visited. And I definitely can't go back in time for my historical locations. If I'm not  familiar with an area, I better find out what it's like. Is it hilly, mountainous, tree covered, what kind of trees, what's the weather like? For most the that info the internet is wonderful. I visit google earth and NASA for help with identifying the area and the weather in the US. There's information available on Europe and some part of the mideast as well. If you are writing in a time period before the mid 1800's you'll have to depend on the local newspapers of the location. They did record any severe weather, and yes you can find all kinds of old newspapers on the web. I even found a newspaper account of the London fire where the weather for the past season had been discussed.

Another hint. Sites that sell trees, flowers, seeds will also tell you whether what you've picked to fill a garden will grow in the area you've decided to use, often with even bloom time for flowers. They will often give you information about whether the species is native to that part of the country you are using in your story.

Once I have an idea of the type of weather and what the area is like, then I turn to the kinds of homes in that location. Again the internet is invaluable. If I'm working on a contemporary, I go to google for a street map. Once I get an idea of the layout of the streets, than my best bet is local real estate listings. I get an idea of type of house, cost, type of neighborhood, etc. With historicals, the web is full of manor houses and castles that serve nicely for homes in your historical setting.

Medical information is no problem either, because once again you can search for a disease or condition and find all kinds of information. The same is true of the occupation of your characters, even medieval labor.

Because I'm not the most organized person, I make a hard copy of what I've discovered with the URL and keep it with the information I have on that particular book. One word of caution. I never depend on one source. For example, if I'm looking a certain type of house for a contemporary, I'll check out several real estate agents, the same is true for growing things, neighborhoods, etc. I'll always try to find at least two sources that agree. If I can't find two, then I won't use that information.

Yes, it all takes time, but it's fun learning about different places, their weather, their homes, the way they live or lived, and lucky for the reader, they know you care enough to be accurate, especially if they live in the area of your book setting or are a student of the time period. Combine that concern with a good story and they'll want to read your next novel.

So, happy researching.

Find Windsong and other books by Allison at Champagne Books

Award winning author, Allison Knight claims she's married to the world's greatest husband because he's her greatest supporter and works with her on all her projects. The mother of four children, she retired from teaching to move south to warmer climes. She has written and published nineteen romances for both paperback and digital  publishers. Her third medieval romance from her 'song' series and a short story are available from Champagne Books, Inc.

Because she can never quite step out of teaching mode, she blogs often sharing the knowledge she gained writing and publishing in the romance genre. She also loves to talk  about the growing digital market.

You can find her at:
She blogs once a month for The Writers' Vineyard, http://thewritersvineyard.com


Cathy Coburn said...

Yes, I can relate to the research. I can't imagine having to do it on foot, thank goodness for the internet. But, I write about serial killers, imagine what they'd find if they looked into my harddrive. Enjoyed the read, Thanks

Regencyresearcher said...

I love research but it does eat up time from writing. When I am reasearching I often also get sidetracked by coming across suggestions for future books.
Your suggestions are helpful
May I add another? If you are writing in a different time period , make sure you know the laws concerning marriages and inheritance. Though England and Scotland shared a King and an island, their laws on these subjects were quite different.

Tanya Hanson said...

Howdy, Allison, I love the research part. I guess because I've always loved history and taught American Lit which is closely tied to events. Right now I'm doing the Donner Party.

I love the internet for finding out the crucial little environmental details, as you say. I have friends in Texas who really help with that area.

Good post, and best wishes.

Linda Rettstatt said...

Allison, I think I fully realized the importance of research in fiction when writing Next Time I'm Gonna Dance--about a woman struggling with breast cancer. Even though we write fiction, some things have to be true. I discovered that research can be enriching and I learned a lot in the process. I don't look at it with the same disdain anymore. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Infogypsy said...

Thanks for the research tips -my favorite area of writing and for sure not an evil. I love traveling to the scene I am writing about if I can get there - otherwise we are so lucky to have Google Earth and all those other web sites! Thanks for sharing your tips.

Allison Knight said...

Thanks for the kind words. To add to Regencyreseacher's comment, not just marriage, but peerage and the general law of the land. Those laws changed a lot over time, even the means of punishment. That's why in some ways research can be an evil. Especially if your are writing outside your time period, you end up looking at laws and customs that take hours, even sometimes days away from the story.

Sylvia Rochester said...

You’re right on target, Allison. Another thing to look for is any historical event that occurred during your novel’s time and setting. If you can weave it into your story, it will add a sense of reality to your fiction.

Liz Flaherty said...

Great post. I love research--the thing is to know when to start writing!

Jude Johnson said...

I'm one of those people who has to have a major pile of my research done before I start writing. I hate to have to stop to look up details once I get into the flow of a story. I find the internet very useful and time-saving, but there is nothing like the Rare books section of a research library to send me back in time, even if it's only a mental state.

Thanks for the tips, Allison!