Even when you’re writing about a topic, place, person, or time you feel you know fairly well, you need to ensure that there is a degree of accuracy throughout your book. Of course, fiction allows for poetic licence, but establishing some solid facts can help ground your writing, and even in some cases, nurture it along new paths and sub-plots.
Primary research is investigation that you undertake yourself, whereas secondary research refers to your studying of research materials that are already available, such as reading books or ‘googling’ online. Primary research is the most effective method for you to stay on top of the latest developments, attitudes, and current happenings in your chosen topic, place or person, so if you’re serious about covering it in your novel, you should take the time to complete at least some.
Researching a place
It won’t surprise you to hear that the best possible way for you to conduct research about a place is to visit it, and it’s key that you really immerse yourself into the culture and way of living whilst there, too. If you can, stay with locals, interview those in the area and steer off the beaten path for a true picture of what the place has to offer.
If you can’t visit the place you’d like to write about, try interviewing those who have been there and spent time there. Try to arrange a Skype date with locals, and travel bloggers, or call the local embassy or authority there for more information. Bear in mind, though, most people will want their place to be looked upon favourably, so take what you hear with a pinch of salt.
Researching a person
Writing about people can be difficult, as, unless their words, actions and personality have been extremely well-documented previously, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve the accuracy you’d like to. However, if the person is contactable, speaking to and interacting with them is the best way for you to understand them without relying on hearsay. If not, try contacting their family or friends (using sensitivity depending on the person, of course) or those ‘in the know’ about them – historians, experts, or professors.
If the person is no longer contactable, secondary research can be completed and authors of such research can be spoken with to fill in any knowledge gaps.
Researching a time or event
Historical accuracy varies from period to period and place to place, but the benefit of writing books about times gone by and events past is that there are still professionals researching and working on learning more about them. Conducting primary research for your story can be tricky here, and you’ll have more room for embellishment and imagination than usual, but if you can find out contact information for experts in your field, get in touch with them. Most will be happy to speak you: if they’re passionate about what they work in, they’ll want you to write as precisely and accurately as possible and so will value the opportunity to help you do just that.
Surveying, interviewing, and investigating may seem daunting before you start to write, but the shape your book will take as a result will soon demonstrate the worth of effective research. Even better, you can hang on to your findings and share them onwards as you like with others, or reference them in your book!