Hello, Smokin’ Hot Readers!
Many of you know I enrolled in an MFA in Creative Writing program at Liberty University. I have an assignment on research that I’d like to share as it also answers questions I receive from individuals who wish to be writers. Their question is generally, “How do I research a book?”
Now, I could go on for days about this, but I’ll stick to the topics my course requires. You can always ask me questions in the comments section or contact me at Sheila@SheilaKell.com.
How do I know what I need to research?
In all honesty, I never thought I needed to research. I just wrote from my varied experiences. I figured that I had learned enough from all the books I had read in the genre. In my first book, I wrote an FBI agent who was thirty and had been an agent for ten years. That was impossible since one must be at least twenty-three years of age to apply. (FBI.gov) Yet I didn’t know that because I didn’t research the field agent requirements. Thank goodness my editor caught it, and that told me I needed to research everything if I wanted to remain as close to the real world as possible.
There is no limit to research needs, but I begin with my characters’ background and location. Characters’ experience is essential, but so is location information if you are using an actual place. What is the weather that time of year? What streets or towns could you use to make it realistic? What about plot detail, you may ask? Yes, I research what I need in that area also.
One article by Writer’s Edit (sidenote – this is an excellent resource for those writing and wishing to write) says it all: “Writing a crime novel? You’ll need to research things like murder weapons, forensics, and past criminal cases. Writing a romance novel set in modern-day Rome? You’ll need to pay Italy a virtual visit by reading as much as you can about its capital city. Writing historical fiction set in medieval Europe? Time to learn everything you can about that period in history.”
Heck, I even research “How to Write a Blurb” because that is important also. I found a great article I’ll leave the link to in the works cited by Kotobee Blog. You’ll want to read this little gem before you embark on the short blurb that defines your book to the reader!
So, be prepared to research before you write, as you write, then while you edit, and, if you’re smart, in between writing sessions. If you guess, the reader will find those mistakes in the body of your manuscript and can impact their feeling (and rating) toward your book. Don’t chance it!
Where do I find sources?
There are plenty of sources on the internet, but not all are credible (see next question), in bookstores and the library.
I read, read, and read some more. I read in my genre to keep on top of what is popular, read books to better my writing, read books on forensics, and more. Authors have written books to help other authors. I love the Thesaurus books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglishi. They cover positive and negative traits, rural and urban settings, emotional wounds, and more. When you’re stuck, they’ll help you along with the right words that fit the scenario.
When I did the research for Midnight Escape, I purchased an Irish Gaelic dictionary to help me add some realistic words into the mix. In my new Coastal Investigation series (still in the works), I purchased a Cajun French dictionary. Those little purchases help immensely and may, or may not (I’m not an accountant, so check with yours), be tax-deductible. Even if they aren’t, they’re worth the cost.
How do I know if a source is credible and appropriate for my project?
Deciding whether a link on the internet is credible is difficult in today’s climate, as everyone likes to speak their mind on the internet. Even books published can be iffy on their credibility since the same—anyone and everyone publish without a publishing house. So, how do you do it? Very carefully.
For me, I first look at where the link is cited. I shamelessly believe all .gov addresses because I can’t imagine one of them hijacked to answer my simple question. When it comes to the other links, you’ll do research again. Does this come from a credible source? By that, I mean, does it come from someone with a background that makes them an expert? You’ll need to research that author a bit. Does it come from a legitimate site? You’ll need to research the company or individual it is linked to in the end. In other words, your research continues. But don’t allow yourself to get lost in a wormhole. Remember what you came to find out and find out if the site (or article, or book, or paper) is credible and move forward. Too many authors get lost in those wormholes and waste precious time.
My advice to stay on track here: With the first or second search—Is it credible? If not, move on to another piece of research. Too much information is available to waste half a day making sure one thing is credible. Don’t get rushed and take the first bit of information you find. That bit of information may be popular since it’s wrong.
How do I incorporate sources into my writing?
This topic can get tricky because you can’t copyright someone else’s work. And sometimes paraphrasing may be the same. So, read, think, and put it into your own words. Now, concerning the FBI minimum age above. That can be stated the same as FBI.gov, and you don’t have to cite the source. It’s crazy, so I recommend you research copyright laws and all that goes with it before you copy someone else’s work. Read, think, put it into your own words is the way to go. Since you are writing fiction, you don’t have to add a Works Cited section at the end of the book. You may, however, add an Author’s Notes and say where you came across the information.
Where can I find more information?
There are many sources, but I cited the works from this article below. Remember to research all the time! The work upfront will save your reputation and give you happy readers.
FBI Special Agent Job Requirements. www.fbi.gov. https://apply.fbijobs.gov/psc/ps/EMPLOYEE/HRMS/c/HRS_HRAM_FL.HRS_CG_SEARCH_FL.GBL?FOCUS=Applicant&FolderPath=PORTAL_ROOT_OBJECT.HC_HRS_CG_SEARCH_FL_GBL2&IsFolder=false&IgnoreParamTempl=FolderPath%2cIsFolder.
Top 7 Tips For Researching Your Novel. Writer’s Edit. https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/top-7-tips-researching-novel/.
10 Tips to Write a Book Blurb That Sells, Kotobee Blog. March 13, 2019, https://blog.kotobee.com/book-blurb/.
I hope this answers your questions about my research and if you should research in your book. I’ll be back next week with more questions readers have asked. I think the next two have something to do with Cowboy and my cats. Until next week –