The F.B.I. Probably Has a File on Me
You may be under the impression that you only need to research if you’re writing a nonfiction book. So not true. Get in the know, get on the Internet, and in the words of a dear friend, Google that sh#t. Google and I are now besties. The things I look up, oh my!
If you’re writing historical romance, for instance, you still need to research the time period. Readers may not know all the facts from, let’s say, the 1800s but if your dialogue, setting, environment, clothes from the era, etc. do not reflect the time accurately or authentically, trust me readers will know something isn’t right. Certainly, an agent or publisher will spot something’s off.
If fantasy novels are your jam, there are still elements you must research if you want your story to come across as genuine. What if magic is an integral part of your story? Though a writer can make up spells, incantations, and potions, sprinkling in some facts and terminology can give a plot some zing. Even superheroes and the abilities you choose for them can be investigated and tweaked. If fairies are fluttering around in your protagonist's garden, dust your paragraphs with some fairy glitter procured from the Internet.
Are monsters roaming around in your tale? Explore everything, monster related. Why are people afraid of them? Is it their creepy voice, their bulging eyes, their spooky appearance? Is it simply fear of the unknown? Google what scares people and incorporate that into building your monsters. Scope out the long list of phobias, pick one or two, attach them to a creature, and build a monster around those fears. Mystery plays a big role where monsters are concerned. Feature a slow burn of darkness, suspense, and terror. Unleash your wild imagination, but leave the door open for discovery and monster unpredictability. If you’ve done your research this should flow naturally.
One might say, “Hey, hold up a sec, I’m exempt from the research thing. My genre’s science fiction. I’m making stuff up.” Nope. Nada. You’re still not off the hook. You ought to make it your business to be up on the latest inventions so you can build on those as you write. Maybe your plot involves nanotechnology, throw in some nuggets of knowledge on the subject. Corroborate the finer points or your sci-fi is doomed.
If your story is set in Ireland, Hawaii, Tennessee, Russia, or Timbuktu, you’ll need to have your facts straight. What is life, like in those places? To write realistically, you need to know. Do the people of the region speak with a twang, a drawl, a brogue, or an accent? Your characters’ dialogue better reflect that. Specific words are spoken in different areas of the world, even across the United States. In some cities, people say soda in others, it’s referred to as pop. Then there’s hoagie or hero. Don’t even get me started on sauce or gravy. So, do your due diligence and zone in on your character's word choices. After all, reader and author enter an unsaid contract of sorts and the reader wants satisfaction.
By the way, what’s the weather like in the setting you chose? Is it sunshine and rainbows or cold and rainy? Get the weather right and you give weight to your narrative.
What concerns do the people who live in these areas have? What obstacles do they confront or overcome? Examine the plight and/or good fortune the people face, then call on your empathetic skills to walk inside the heads of your characters so you can be true to some of the facts you’ve uncovered.
Does your character travel? Perhaps a trip to Paris or Portugal. To lend credence to their scenes, you must throw in street names, landmarks, famous buildings, beaches, restaurants, and anything else they might encounter. Inserting these small details potentially provides a richness with a big payoff.
Is your protagonist a doctor? You better know medical lingo. Is your antagonist an antique gun collector? Poke around on websites that feature old-fashioned firearms. Is there a Catholic priest in your book who recites biblical phrases? Oh, boy, hit the bible up for psalms and prayers. Imagine one of your characters is a waitress, what kind of customers does she face? What hardships is she going through? Does she mix up the orders? Get hit on? What if your protagonist’s love interest is a bartender? To do the character justice, know your cocktails and bar atmosphere.
Before the birth of the Internet, writers had to physically explore the landscapes they wished to bring to life through their writing. Interviewing people in-the-know occurred often. They had to frequent the library, sift through encyclopedias, magazine articles, and microfiche. What’s that you ask? Jeez, I’m old. It’s a flat piece of film containing microphotographs of the pages of a newspaper, catalog, or other document. Some still do this and that’s admirable. Ha, you youngins have it easy. Hallelujah, the invention of the Internet changed everything. One and done. Well, sort of.
Two tidbits of advice, first, go old-school and read. Read the classics. Read books about the places you intend to include in your novel. Read travel brochures. Read anything to assist in your writing journey. Second, search diligently to obtain more info, through interviews, articles, old newspapers, and other resources just like authors did before the Internet.
Okay, you’ve got the facts down about your setting, the appropriate lingo spoken there, the fashion of the day, and everything that encompasses the atmosphere. If monsters, magic, machines, or fairies drop into your story, you've made their presence known by peppering your prose with some facts and buzz words. You’ve popped in your character’s head and sat for a while. You understand their dilemmas, their shortcomings, their past, their air of je ne sais quoi, and any skills they possess. You’ve ironed out their appearance, personality traits, and all the idiosyncrasies you’ve desired for your characters. Now it’s time to grab a cup of coffee, set your fingers to the keyboard, and add flavor and depth. You’ve got this, my darlings!