Most books require some level of research; even if it’s just basic knowledge of a place or culture. However, some novels need serious time dedicated to digging through publications, websites, archives and videos. It’s taxing…but very rewarding too!
Learning How to Research by Making a LOT of Mistakes
I’ve always enjoyed rootling around in old books and digging out material for future inspiration. As such, I’ve tried to write several ‘historic’ books in the past, and each time, I’ve failed in spectacular fashion. Here, in no particular order, is a list of mistakes I’ve made over the years.
- Not writing it down. “Wow. I’ve just read something mind-blowing. I definitely won’t forget that, not in a million years. Ooh, hang on, someone’s calling me. And I need to cook the boys’ tea. And I’ve got a few emails to reply to. Hang on a moment, what was that amazing snippet of information again? And why can’t I find the website I was reading it on?” Sigh. This is a common scenario for me, sadly – because I so often forget to write it down!
- Writing down too much. “This information is so great, I’m going to basically paraphrase the entire book in my notes.” Then, lo and behold, it’s a gigantic unwieldy mess by the end of it, which makes me lose all enthusiasm for the project. Whoops.
- Not targeting my research. “Hmm, 16th century England, you say? Well, let’s start by researching trade. Gosh, this section on guilds looks very interesting. (An hour later…) Well, I never knew that about merchant footwear, that little buckle detail is fascinating. And neck-ties; I can see how they’ve changed ever so slightly from 1531 to 1532.” And before I know it, I’ve wasted several hours researching nothing of any use whatsoever.
- Not going for the right resources. “This is a dense book, and ergo, must be of value. So, I shall plough through it (after all, I went to the effort of getting it out of the library) even though it’s tedium personified. Then at the end, I shall write a few cursory notes and rue the day that I ever clapped eyes on the damned thing.” Not a good approach, folks. Trust me.
Targeting your Research
As you can tell, I’ve made some major research cock-ups in the past and am in the process of learning from them. If you’re researching too, I’d recommend the following approach:
- Work out what you need to know. It might be that you need to get a sense of authenticity when you’re describing a particular time period or geographical location. Or, you might need to know some concrete facts; e.g. what houses were like in Georgian England. Tailor your research requirements before you launch straight in.
- Read the reviews. There are plenty of amazing books out there, and some boring ones too. If you’re like me and have the attention of a horse-fly, it’s better to go for material that you know will engage you. Check out what other people have said about the book and be guided by that.
- Think outside the box. There is a wealth of research material out there, in all sorts of formats. For example, I’m currently researching witches in south-west England, and I’ve found a few excellent podcasts to listen to while I go for a run. Yes, I really am that geeky and I make no apology for it. Ahem.
- Don’t go overboard. It’s easy to use research as an excuse to avoid writing the actual book. You’ll know instinctively when you’ve got enough material, and remember, you can still look stuff up while you’re writing!
Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, is available to buy – you can do so here (US) or here (UK). You can also find the second in the series on Amazon (The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger) and the third will be coming out in October!