I do a lot of research for my novels – not that I set them in the distant past or remote countries I’ve never travelled to, but there are just odd things which I write about which I have a superficial knowledge of but need to check out the actual facts, or need to dig a little deeper into whatever it is. Whatever it is might be salt mines, or Zeppelin raids, or the sort of substances which might render you unconscious such as ether or chloroform, or when water mills were first built and used in this country, or where the Emperor Constantine was born… and so on.
In my little guide to writing which emerged from my teaching, I mention research… and also observation. By observing with a sort of focus and concentration and a very beady eye you can learn such a lot – and find real inspiration!
This is what I wrote:
If you decide to set your novel in an interesting or unusual place, even if you have been there yourself, you may need to do some research to add detail and to make sure your facts are correct.
If your story is set in the past you may need to find out about how people lived in those days.
The same applies to character and plot. If your hero is an Albanian, or your heroine is an astrophysicist, you need to make sure you know something about Albania or astrophysics.
It is very easy to do research now with the vast resources of the internet, but you may also like to visit your library or local museum. Other people are a great resource; if your story is set in the recent past, interview people who were alive at that time; if your story is set in another place or country you may know someone who has lived, worked, or been there. You may be able to visit some of the places your story is set if they are local to you.
Adding extra detail adds interest for your readers; it brings your story alive and makes it more believable.
… and Observation
Observation is the easiest way to do research. Become a people watcher. Become aware of your surroundings and situation. Keep your eyes and ears open for the unusual, the intriguing, the something which might send your imagination racing. Store up what you see and hear either in your head, or in a notebook, log or diary… some people always carry one with them to jot down things which inspire them.
Here is a link to my book ‘So You Want To Write’: