Alina Popescu, Writer

From Authors to Authors: Five Top Tips on Researching a Novel

From Authors to Authors: Five Top Tips on Researching a Novel
June 17
15:39 2017

Hello everyone and welcome back to a new post in the From Authors to Authors blog series. Today, Isobel Starting returns to share with you your best tips for researching a novel. Grab a snack an join us to find out all about the best way to do research for your book.


No matter the genre you write in, as writers we are all looking for originality in our work.  Little details can give a scene the ring of authenticity, and in turn enable the reader to connect with the event or person you are writing about.  But there is a fine balance between researching for these little details and getting the words on the page.

 Five Top Tips on Researching a Novel

Some authors say ‘you can never do too much research,’ but I beg to differ.  Time is valuable, and our experience as writers in the technology age is so different from writers of yesteryear.  We don’t even need to leave the house to be researching a novel now, what with millions of web sites chock-a-block with information, and Libraries, Museums, and Archives offering online access.  Writing has always been a battle of wills between time, the writer mind and the part of the brain that wants to procrastinate and do anything else but the write the words.  So, to combat this we have to be strict with ourselves, get organized, and do the research.

Researching a novel

1. WEB RESEARCH

The internet is always my first port of call when I am researching a novel.  It can be enormously beneficial, but on the flip side, it can also be a time vampire.  We have a plethora of research tools at the touch of a button, and it’s easy to get carried away and lose yourself in book research.  How many times have you logged in to search for a specific detail to then find yourself searching for something else – or worse, shopping or browsing on social media?  The trick to researching a novel online is to go there with a specific list of things to research and stick to it religiously.  Give yourself a strict period to find the information.  For my last book, I ended up on all kinds of websites, from Medical to Military, featuring topics from knife crime to Field First Aid.  It’s easy to get distracted and forget how you found a source.  Keep a source link and double check facts.  Wikipedia may be your automatic go-to site, but personally, I take whatever I read there with a pinch of salt and always try to find another source for whatever information I want to use from a Wiki page.  Once your book is out, there is nothing you can do if a reader finds a whopping error, hearsay or faked fact.

2. GOOGLE EARTH AND GOOGLE MAPS

I currently primarily write contemporary settings and would love to be able to afford to travel to the far-flung destinations I write about and have months to get to know the inner workings of the cities.  I have been to many of the places I’ve written about, but for me, the devil is in the detail.  Cities by their nature are always in a state of flux–new buildings rise, others fall, derelict areas become gentrified, roads are blocked off to traffic, new routes built.  It takes a long time to research a city, especially if you have never visited it.  The writer needs to sound like they know a location intimately if the reader is going to be drawn into the story.  Writers have to be very picky about how much detail they add.  Artistic license comes in very handy when imagining the atmosphere on the streets, the scents, and the weather.  But my biggest tip when researching places you cannot physically get to is to use Google Earth.

I have found using Google Earth to be invaluable when I write city scenes.  Google Maps helps me work out how a character would travel from A to B, but Google Earth can allow me to stand in the street and walk in my character’s shoes — seeing what he would have seen on his journey.  The coverage of Google Earth/Maps is so extensive now that it helped me enormously when I was plotting my character’s Sam and Declan’s journey through the Scottish Highlands.  If readers were inclined they could follow the journey the characters made in real life; such is the accuracy of detail I accumulated in my research.

3. WRITE FIRST, RESEARCH LATER

Sometimes I find that I have become too obsessed with details.  If, like me, you have been sidetracked by research you probably won’t have as many words down as you want.  When I’m working on a new story, I try to keep the words flowing and get down as much of the story as I can before the ideas dry up.  I will, inevitably get to a roadblock and find a detail that needs adding.  When this happens, I put what information I need to look for in brackets and keep writing.  For example:

“Simeon walked down (street).  He was hungry and thirsty.  He knew he was near (character’s) home and thought it might be a good idea if he popped around and tried to fix the problems they’d been having.”

Setting aside the research until later enables the writer to keep moving on with the first draft.  Some writers will wait until they have completed the whole first draft before they add the detail.  I add details a few times each week.  Do what works best for you.  I like this method because it makes things so much easier than stopping and starting every time you meet an impasse in your story.

4. OBSERVE LIFE

This is the simplest of ideas for book research.  If you ever find yourself getting stuck with a story or characters, take a notebook and leave the house.  Go to the kinds of places your character would go, a club, a bar, a local park, and take notes about how your character would behave in that environment.  Go to areas that people congregate in, whether it’s the library, a café, a shopping mall.  Sit and observe people’s behavior.  It is fascinating to watch how people interact, and it can add fresh life to your story.  (But please ensure you do this in a non-stalkery way!) 😉  

5. TALK TO REAL PEOPLE

DON’T rely on the internet for everything when you’re researching a novel.  If you are looking to write diverse stories and create authentic, original characters, then you are going to have to reach out to members of the community you write about.

If you are not of the race, gender or religion of the character you are writing about do not rely on common stereotypes to fill the blanks.

If you are not into the kinks you may write about researching kink sites is all well and good, but speaking to someone who is experienced with the kink can add the authenticity all writers desire to a story.

For example: In one of my books, the MC was into ‘Tease and Denial’ and wore a cock cage.  I wanted to understand exactly why this was a turn on and how it felt to use a cage and deny oneself orgasm.  I found a man on Tumblr who was into that very fetish, and I interviewed him in great detail about his experience and how it made him feel.  I found his interview answers were invaluable when writing the character and making him more believable – and personally, it was a lot of fun!

Research resource links:

https://www.wikipedia.org/
http://www.snopes.com/
https://www.google.com/maps
https://www.instantstreetview.com/
https://www.infoplease.com/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Germany, Isobel Starling spent most of her twenty-year professional career making art in Ireland.  She relocated to the UK and, faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, Isobel started to write and found she loved writing more than making art.

The Shatterproof Bond series is an Amazon Gay Romance bestseller.  Isobel has just completed her eleventh book and signed French and German and Italian, translation and publishing rights deals for the whole Shatterproof Bond series.  The series is currently being produced as audiobooks, with books #1 “As You Wish” and #2 “Illuminate the Shadows”out now on Audible.

Website: https://isobelstarling.wix.com/books
Twitter: https://twitter.com/isobel_starling
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/isobel_starling
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Isobel-Starling/e/B00U1MKE5I

About Author

Alina Popescu

Alina Popescu

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