Wow, I can't believe how long it's been since I updated this blog! I'll try to do it a little more regularly from now on.
For me, doing research is one of the things I love most about writing. I can (and do) spend hours in the local university libraries, digging for details or just absorbing bits of information I might find useful in the future.
Don't think that because you're writing a contemporary that research doesn't matter, because people will catch your mistakes even more easily, especially if you're using real town or city. In fact, you actually have to research the same things whether you're writing a historical or a contemporary - professions and occupations, costume (ie. police officer and fire fighter etc. uniforms will differ from city to city, state to state), setting, both physical and political, speech patterns and language, local culture, furniture styles etc.
Using a combination of library sources and the internet, finding the right details for your story can be both time-consuming and fascinating.
What are the key elements?
First, organization. Yep, before you even start browsing the stacks and thumbing through books, you must have a plan. Remember, though reference libarians are there to help and usually do so quite willingly, you'll not be their friend if approach them and say "I need to know everything about 18th Century France by the end of the day." So, while still at home, make a list of the most important things you want to find out. DO NOT try to do it all in one day.
Second, use a variety of sources, primary and secondary - newspapers, journals, letters, magazines, tourism guides, catalogues and books.
Third, take good notes and reference EVERYTHING! I can't emphasize this enough. Editors will want to know from where you took your information if a question is raised. And it's always good to be able to go back to the original source if necessary - either for clarification or further
Fourth, file your notes - binders, folders and plastic tubs all work well. If you keep a lot of research on your computer, then be sure to BACK IT UP, just in case.
I know that for some people, research is more of a chore. But with the right questions and tools, it can be fun. And the details you find will always
enrich your story, enabling you to draw your reader deeper into your characters' world.
Researching the Historical Romance by Charla Chin
Researching the Historical Novel by Sarah Smith
A Research Primer for Historical Fiction Writers by Erika Dreifus
How to Research Historical Fiction by Rita Gerlach
Research Articles at Michelle Prima's Literary Liaisons site.
Writer's Resources at Literary Liaisons.
HF writers answer the question "How do you conduct your historical research?" at the Historical Fiction Author Roundtable.
Research Techniques by Alan Dix - a tutorial for his undergrad students. He's in the computing department, but much of what he says applies to writers as well :-)
Research Guides from the New York Public Library - they cover a variety of topics and many are very useful.
How to do Research from the Kentucky Virtual Library - a site for children. It's a great intro to the topic.
Finding Information on the Net from the UC Berkeley Library
How to Do Research in the Library from the UC Santa Cruz Library. In this case, some of the info will be specific to that library, but most of what's said can be applied in any library setting :-)
There are some all-purpose sites, such as Voice of the Shuttle, Wikipedia, which is similar to About.com in that it's maintained by volunteers and Writers Free Reference, which has links to free sites on all kinds of topics. The Humbul Humanities Hub is more specialized, but includes notes about each site they reference.
LibrarySpot maintains a list of online encyclopedias (though not all of them are free) as does Resource Central, and RefDesk.
Link of the Day: Fascinating History