At the beginning of every project comes the planning phase. This goes for most things – a new job, a new place to live, or a new book to write. Yes, I know there are some out there who live the life of the “pants-ter” (you know, writing by the seat of your pants), but I’m a fan of the planner path. I prefer to know where my pile of characters want to go before I set out with them.
Either way you decided to write – there is one thing we all have to do, and that is research.
To be honest, I LOVE the research portion of writing. (Sometimes maybe a little too much… lets just say every employee of my local library knows me on sight…) In information age, researching has become both more convenient and riddle with sketchy information. Back in the day of push-carts and horse-drawn trolleys when I was writing research papers I remember receiving the following advice, “Avoid glossies.” What is a glossy bit of research?Think everything you see in the checkout line at your local grocery store. But with the internet these types of rags may be harder to spot. So here are my 4 ways to get the research you need without having to truck it to the library. (Unless you want to, then go ahead, because the library is a wonderful place. An oasis if you will.)
#1 – GOOGLE ALERTS: Who doesn’t love a search engine that does all of the work for you? Select topics you want to know more about and have them send you a daily email. Maybe its advancements in Space Exploration, or maybe it’s your own name (which is great for published authors because you can see who is talking about you). Then you can pick and choose articles to your liking.
#2 – THE RESOURCE SECTION ON WIKIPEDIA: As we all know, anyone can update a Wikipedia page. That said, at the bottom there are three sections that have a pile of breadcrumbs to help you further educate yourself: NOTES; REFERENCES; & EXTERNAL LINKS. Say you really want to write a historic romance set in Stalingrad during the battle of the same name and you think, “What would Stalin be thinking during this time?”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin <-Check out the notes on this guy… ;)
#3 – ONLINE DIGITAL LIBRARIES: I’m still a fan of holding a book in my hand and running my fingers over sheets of paper -but buying books can get expensive, and while I love living in LA – sometimes its hard to find the books I need (and or want) at the local library. Lucky for me there are a ton of great online sites to visit – like Open Library and Google Books – these allow me access to titles I may other wise miss. Other sites that are worth looking into are: New York Public Library, Internet Archive, & University of Pittsburg Digital Library.
#4 – YOUTUBE, TWITTER, TUMBLR, INSTAGRAM, THE INTERNET IN GENERAL: For number four I’m looking at research for Character Development. I live in Los Angeles, but I’m originally from Cleveland – this gives me a general idea of how people talk in both places – but my next book I want to set it the UK. I have a pretty general idea of what a British accent is – I visited once 20 years ago, and I love me some Downton Abbey – but tat can really only take me so far. Dialects change from region, so its nice to hear the cadence of the accent so you can then interpret it into your story. Where do you go? Well, you could go to the UK and spend a ton of money and time traveling from place to place – or – you can go to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyyT2jmVPAk And in five minutes you will have a tour of Great Britain in you living room.
Twitter is great because you can check out what’s trending. Writing a YA, but the last time you hung out with a teen was when you were a teen (5, 10, 35 years ago) then go on and see what teens are talking about. Watch their text and how they discuss whatever is popular to them.
Tumblr – the ultimate collection of just about everything. Most blogs are good for this – just search around until you find something that is similar to what you are trying to convey and then read, read, read.
Instagram – what’s it look like under a wave in Hawaii? Follow @ClarkLittle, then you can say, “The water was so clear I could see my friends waiting in the beach just before it crashed on my head…”
Research will make your story rich and opulent in a way doing general guess-work won’t and can’t. We can’t possibly know everything, but we live in an age where we can find things out at a flip of the switch and a press of a button. If you have any great researching ideas, I’d love to hear about them! The more you know, the easier it is to write.