Welcome to my blog on Four Steps to Research a Novel.
I was reading a novel recently and there was a scene set in a town in Spain that I know every well. The author (who shall remain nameless) talked about walking along the promenade and buying a tourist hat and candy floss, and although many parts of Spain are commercialised the particular place the author was writing about is not.
My reaction was immediate. I lost all belief in the author, the characters and the plot and I tossed the book aside. The author hadn’t done the research and credibility was lost. Research can be like flying in space – daunting but exciting. It can be endless and like gravity, it can pull you away from your main aim of writing the novel. So focus on what information you will use.
1. What sort of experts will I need? – Once you have established your characters and the plots that will form your novel then you will need to work out the essential elements which give credibility to your writing. For example in BOOK OF HOURS I’m writing about kite surfing. It’s an area that I knew nothing about. So, I asked around and a friend introduced me to Stefano a kite surfer. I arranged to meet him on the beach in Whitstable and he introduced me to an instructor, Sarah who has her own Kite School. I was also really lucky to meet Hannah Whitely a three-time British Kitesurfing Champion.
My advice is talk to everyone and ask questions. People enjoy speaking and sharing information on subjects they are passionate about. There will be more about Sarah & Stefano later in my blog and how Sarah reconstructed an important kitesurfing scene in my novel.
2. I don’t know any experts – Don’t be afraid to Google ‘experts’ on specific criteria or needs for your book. In the BOOK OF HOURS the use of a drone way key to certain scenes. I contacted Steve Pentleton an aerial filming and photography expert. I sent an introductory email and explained who I was and that I had used other resources in previous novels to help make my books come alive and he kindly agreed to help. What followed were numerous emails between us with Steve advising and helping me on the terminology and technology that I could incorporate which brought excitement and reality to those scenes. Drones are an interesting subject and with Amazon now using them to deliver goods they are even more current and sometimes controversial.
3. Friends and People you know – You never know who knows what until you speak to them. Observations can make a difference by adding the smallest detail to a scene; a room from a friend’s home, their garden ornaments, a painting on a wall, or even an overheard conversation in a cafe, on the bus or the tube. As a writer my senses are constantly alert. I notice things, the way someone dresses; colour combinations, scarves, shoes and even their habits; cleaning the car, walking the dog, shopping in the supermarket. It’s all in the detail; the turn of a head, the crooked half-smile, or even the way someone pushes themselves through the door first. Noting details allows you to weave seemingly unimportant character traits and descriptions into your narrative. It’s all research.
4. How much research should I include in my book? – Enough to make it interesting and plausible but not enough to bore the reader rigid. Research endorses the credibility of your book and your characters and locations and scenes. Use the information sparingly but accurately. Don’t write huge chucks of clunky information. Describe something or use the information in dialogue so it comes across naturally. The trick is never to let the reader guess the amount of research you’ve done. Make it look natural and simple.
REMEMBER: Ask questions. Be polite and be thankful. Write everything down and keep a track of who said it to you, just in case you need to get back to them for more information at a later date. Keep relevant newspaper cuttings.
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