This week we will take a look at researching stories. First up, what exactly does research encompass? Quite a lot actually. Of course, there are historical facts. Names, dates, places, major events. It also covers social and political ideas of the time, demographics, setting, geography, climate. How about equipment? Technology? Mechanical facts? Then there’s clothing and food. Native languages. Well-known disasters. Wars. Exhausted yet?
Research can be a huge chunk of your story, start to finish. Some prefer to do it all in painstaking detail before they start chapter one, some would rather do it as they go. I fall somewhere in-between. I want to have a good sense of what the world and time period was like, assuming I am using a real world setting. However, I don’t spend months looking into it. I want a good basis and then I will look up things as I go. Even those who do a lot of research ahead of time end up doing more during the course of the writing. Something always pops up that you have not planned on, requiring you to go back to your sources.
Which brings us to the main point here – sources. Of course, there is the internet. Google is often a writer’s best friend. So is Wikipedia, but that one requires some caution in that not everything is always accurate. Historical websites, special interest associations, encyclopedia sites… the list is endless and ever-changing by the day.
But what about other sources? In other words, how in the hell did we research anything before we had the internet? There is always the library. In my case, that is generally not that useful given I live in a tiny town with a tiny library. Some other favorite sources are books on the subject. I continually comb through used book stores, both online and brick and mortar. Newspapers are invaluable. When I was researching Victorian London for my Victorian vampire story, I came across all sorts of wonderful books on the era. My big score, however, was several editions of the Star, a London newspaper, all from the summer of 1888. I was ecstatic for weeks! In addition to actual news of the era, the advertisements were great for giving a good feeling for the times (I also picked up a book printed in the 1800’s about lice and rats in London – very interesting look at the cleanliness issues. It got me some weird looks!).
I also tend to collect good source material as I go along for times and locations that interest me and that I may want to use at some point, or places that I already envision for a story idea brewing in my head. I may use them one day, I may not, but digging through them can be invaluable if I do. And sometimes, I may not use that particular thing, but it spurs an idea of something I do end up using, which can be just as good.
The first week we talked about being observant and stretching our creative muscles to make use of what we see. Research is a great place for that as well, whatever form it takes. You never know what will be lurking in those pages, whether they are in a book, newspaper, or website. Happy hunting!