How Did You Do the Research for Your Novel?

I researched my novel Daughter Am I for two years, but I also had help from a historian friend, and in fact, he was the one who inspired me to write the book. He used to regale me with tales of gangsters. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch a gangster film with him because he’d keep up a running commentary about all the things the filmmaker got wrong, and I’d miss half the story. I did a lot of research myself, though, and it was a special joy when I discovered something he didn’t know! Most of the information isn’t on the internet, but resides in . . . gasp! . . . books.

Here are a few ways other authors did research for their books. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview by Deborah J Ledford, Author of Snare and Staccato

I’m part Eastern Band Cherokee and knew that I wanted the Native American element to be instrumental for SNARE. Once I decided on the Tribe to focus on I came into contact with the communications director on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Floyd “Mountain Walking Cane” Gomez read every word of the manuscript as I composed each draft. He either approved scenes, characters and elements, or told me flat out “No, you cannot use this.” (he told me this quite often!) Elements Floyd wasn’t sure about were cleared by elders and the Taos Pueblo Tribal Council.

From an interview by T. C. Isbell, Author of “Southern Cross”

I spent a great deal of time researching my book. I used period magazines like Post, Life, and National Geographic. Some research was accomplished using old books and the Internet. However, information on the Internet has to be approached with a grain of salt.

From an interview by Polly Iyer, Author of “Hooked”

You’d be surprised how many upscale women write about their adventures as a call girl. Like Tawny, these are smart women who think why not get paid for something they’re giving away free. The top women go places with exciting, rich men and make big bucks to do it. Just click on Google, and there they are, telling all.

From an interview with Bonnie Toews, Author of “The Consummate Traitor”

I do intense research so that my facts are as realistic as can be in a fictional setting. I scour libraries, Google, read travelogues of areas I have not visited so that my descriptions are as true to life as possible, either today or in the time of the book’s setting. For that I interview people who lived and endured during the period. One interview for The Consummate Traitor was with an actual German aerocraft designer Canada protected so he could work on our Avro jet. He began as a fanatical NAZI with access to Hitler’s inner circle (He hated Goring) but by the end of the war, was so disillusioned that he ended up with a disassociated personality. During our interview he split from one to the other depending on what I described that triggered him to relive the past. I gained amazing insight from that interview and gave his hands to my NAZI villain. I have never seen hands like his — his finger tips were square, not rounded, and his shoulders were so slumped that his arms seem to hang too long for his body. I could picture him in an SS uniform with the shoulder paddings squaring off his body. He died a few years ago. He had Parkinson’s.

What about you? How did you do the research for your novel?

3 Responses to “How Did You Do the Research for Your Novel?”

  1. Cathy "Elaine Garverick" Gingrich Says:

    It’s not too much of a stretch to say I began my research for “The Darque Princess Chronicles” at the age of four, I just didn’t know it. I loved fairytales. The more gruesome, the more real they seemed to me. I have never stopped reading. When I got the idea to write this book, although it came to me in “ah-hah” kind of moment, it also seemed as if it were a completely natural conclusion to those years of reading things I loved. Time-travel, history in general, English history especially, princesses, religion, strong women, adventure, romance…these are a few of my favorite things. I have loved reading books as far back as I can remember. I knew my subject well, so it wasn’t difficult to find the background information I needed in period-piece reference and biographical books, online (especially Wiki, a wonderful resource available to all), in libraries, museums, and films. So the short answer is books! Books! Wonderful, beautiful books!

  2. Rod Marsden Says:

    I used my own knowledge of the 1970s in putting together Disco Evil. Hey! I was there! I was a twenty-something in that time period so why did I have to do any research? Well, I wasn’t completely arrogant. I made sure that the songs and the singers fitted into the years I was working with. Surprisingly, I found that my own memory could be out by as much as six months. I have never had much of an interest in women’s fashion but I knew I was right on the money with mini-skirts and hot pants. I thought I was on the money with tank tops because I had seen them around in discos in Australia in the ’70s. Even so, I did a little research and found that I was absolutely right for Australia and Britain but a decade ahead of myself for the USA. So tank tops in the ’70s in Australia and the UK were okay but not in the USA. When I was writing about the 2nd World War in Ghost Dance I knew I was on solid ground because I had researched the period before for other stories plus there were my parents recollections of the time period. Even so, I wanted to make sure about the German railway system of the day. I was right on the money but I had to make sure anyway. In my research of the period I came across some fascinating film footage of George Street, Sydney during the victory march directly after war and the famous scene of the dancing man in civilian clothes who followed the parade. I recognized this building in the footage. It was a hotel back then. It is a shopping complex today. This revelation will be in an up and coming book I am working on.

  3. careann Says:

    I just came from Jody Hedlund’s blog where her topic of the day is, “How should you research? All at once, or as you need it?” Research is so important. I know when I read books where details are inaccurate, I come to a dead stop. They affect the flow of the story but also the credibility of the author.

    My novels are contemporary and usually set in familiar locales so I’m at ease writing within them. However, there are many topics and details that still need to be researched. I use books and the internet for some information, and personal interviews and hands on experience for others. I’m cautious of the internet’s accuracy so always check multiple sources.

    I do as much advance research as I require to get myself into the scenes and story. But too much researching and I’ll never get to the writing! Once I get started, if I encounter things that need following up or more information, I insert a message to myself in red text, or insert the letters “jkjkjk” in the spot to be easily found by doing a search later, and I keep plowing on. This works well for the way I write, but I think it’s probably “different strokes for different folks”, depending, too, on the genre one is writing.

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