Happy Tuesday, TWNers! Because our previous post wasn’t a writing tip post, I decided to give a bonus post this week and pick up with the first installment in my brand-new series! Before we jump in, I want to announce that TWN’s interview with YA fantasy author Melanie Cellier is schedule to take place this weekend right here on your favorite writing blog! So if you’re not already, we encourage you to subscribe to the blog (form can be found to the right on computer and to the bottom on mobile device) so you don’t miss this long-anticipated interview!
Alright! So I am SO excited to be kicking off the first post in my brand-new series! Write a Book with Me is a writing series where I walk you through every important part of the writing process. If there is a part you especially want me to cover, make sure to let me know in the comments below. As I work through my WIP, Project: Believer, I want to give y’all an inside glimpse to my writing process with tips and advice on how you can improve your own! So without further ado, let’s jump in to episode one where I give the 5 things all researching authors should know!
#1. Be As Specific As Possible
Researching isn’t going to help you if you don’t even know WHAT you’re researching! And in knowing this, it helps to be as specific about what you want to research as you can possibly be. So let’s say you’re writing a fantasy novel and you’re thinking there are things you could and probably should research. You might make a list. Perhaps you need to research different types of swords for your epic medieval novel, and then maybe you’ll need to research what different noble titles are and mean. For example, Katherine, in her epic fantasy novel, chose to research about different types of monarchies around the world to help inspire ideas for the fictional governmental system in her book. You see, researching isn’t just for historical fiction novelists. Researching authors extend from all different types of writers, even though it will look different for each, depending on your novel and genre. If you’re a historical fiction novelist like me, you might find yourself with a very long lists of things to research and this can get overwhelming.
This is why it helps to be specific. For example, different things are happening at different moments in history. Perhaps you know you want to write a book in the 1800s, but there are so many different things happening in that century that unless you know a specific period or event to research (e.g., the Regency Era, Victorian Era, the war against Napolean, the Industrial Revolution, etc.) you will be wandering aimlessly. You need a direction to begin. This will also help with knowing what will or will not be available to your character (for instance, is your time period before pictures or automobiles, what about factories or even musical instruments like is it before the invention and growing popularity of the piano). Also, you should know where your story is taking place. For example, life in the U.S. in the 1800s looks quite differently than life in say India at that time.
If you’re unsure what specific setting or historical event you should choose, try to find something you’re interested in. After all, YOU are the one who’s going to have to be researching this historical setting, and if you’re not interested in it, the researching process is going to be much more exhausting and boring than if it was something you love! That’s why a lot of what I write is set in the 1900s because modern history excites me more than say ancient Egyptian history. I’ve had several people mention how impress they are with how extensive my researching is, and the biggest reason why I dig so deeply is because I want to know more about the topic myself. It’s more entertainment than work!
Another thing to remember is what you want to do with this story. For example, YA author Stephanie Morrill explained in the novel she co-wrote, Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel, how when deciding what the time period of her YA historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, should be, she kept in mind what type of setting she wanted. For instance, you might not want your novel set during the time of a famine or war, if that isn’t apart of the plot, so keep that in mind when deciding your historical setting!
#2. Use Credible Resources
Now that you know what you’re researching, it’s important to make sure that the information you are getting is reliable and credible. Basically, if it’s false information, you’re going to upset a lot of geeks. I have taken as of right now, three history college classes and several other classes that have required some form of research, and one topic that is stressed a lot before writing an essay is to make sure that where you’re getting your information from is true and reputable. You see the great thing about the internet is that you have access to so much information at the tip of your fingers, the bad thing is that anyone can post whatever they like online. That doesn’t make it true.
That’s kinda why people say not to believe everything you read.
So what are some places to avoid? Here’s the big one: Wikipedia.
I know, I know, such a shocker! I mean, Wikipedia is like the number one place to find information, and you mean to tell me that I can’t even use it! A site like Wikipedia is a great example of the downside of relying on the internet for information. Anyone can go in and alter any piece of information, and while Wikipedia does have some fact checkers, it doesn’t catch all the mistakes. For instance, someone could go and write that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1778, and you, not knowing the date yourself, read that article before it was corrected and now believe that the date is 1778. (It’s really 1776.) However, there is a way that Wikipedia can be used as an ally! You can scroll through their reference material to help you find information if you’re unsure where to start looking. Other websites to avoid are sites like National Geographic, Biography.com, and History.com. Some of these places might have accurate information, but they are not scholarly sources. Avoid sites with a lot of adds as they are commercial sites, not academic ones. Try to use places with a .edu or .org instead of a .com in the domain.
I know I have just eliminated a lot of common places to get information, and you might be wondering if there’s anything left.
One thing you can do is to try and use books over websites as books are more likely to be written by experts on the subject. But overall, it doesn’t matter where you get the information. That isn’t the problem. The problem is WHO you’re getting the information from. So my best tip here, is to see who this author is. If it’s an author, you can do a quick Google search and see what credentials they have or what authority they have to speak on the subject. What makes their information correct?
What are their resources? Are they even using resources or evidence to back up their statements? If so, are those resources credible? Do they use primary sources? Keep these questions in mind when researching!
#3. Primary Vs. Secondary Sources
This is something very important to keep in mind! Primary sources are first-hand sources that usually give an eyewitness account on a particular event or moment in history. On the other hand, secondary sources are sources that are written afterwards. For example, a diary from someone living during the historical period you’re studying or a newspaper article from that time is a primary source while a nonfiction book written by a historian afterwards is a secondary source. It’s important to try and use both sources if applicable and available. For instance, in Project: Defender I was writing a historical fiction story about a real person’s life so I used books written from historians for that era and I also read diary entries from that person and his family members. One great aspect that a primary source offers that secondary sources don’t, is that it gives you the actual perspective of someone living in that time period. It tells you what a person living then thought, wished, believed, etc. Which leads me into my second point…
#4. Be Authentic
Ah, nothing annoys me more than when I’m reading a historical piece and the character’s thoughts, beliefs, or motives are way too modern. Remember the researching golden rule: Just because you can write a book from a modern viewpoint, doesn’t mean you should.
I read a book over the summer that was a historical fiction novel about the American Revolution. It couldn’t have possibly felt less authentic than it did. The character’s beliefs and perspectives on the American Revolution were WAAAY too modern. It literally felt like the college textbook I had to read for my American history class. Which was written with a very, extremely modern perspective. Y’all, please don’t do this! The story didn’t feel authentic, and even if they were good points the author made, you are not writing your perspective on history! You are writing a character who lived through that time’s perspective on history, and oftentimes they don’t have the privilege of being able to judge events with a distant mindset. The thoughts this character had would be the thoughts of someone living through it, someone uncertain about the future or only hearing a one-sided opinion on important topics. It would be someone who has grown up being taught and believing what culture and society has dictated. If you have to give your perspective on a historical moment, then write a nonfiction book. In fiction, the goal is to immerse the reader into the time period. Even if you don’t agree with it, its not your mind we’re reading from, it’s the characters. Be true and real with your characters! Not only will you be telling history accurately, you will also be opening up reader’s minds to see history from the lens of a perspective they might not have thought of before! For example, the main character of Project: Believer has a lot of things I don’t agree with on his perspective of historical events, but it’s the perspective that I feel is authentic from someone living in that time who doesn’t have access to all the details. And if it matters that much to you, you can make the character learn another perspective.
Just don’t write a modern-sounding, politically correct historical fiction book.
Something else to keep in mind is that history is rarely black and white so come with an open mind and make sure your research is well-rounded. We have to tell history for what it is—not what we wished it had been—and inspire change.
#5. Research isn’t just in the books
Remember, there are SO many other ways to find information besides just reading books and articles. You can look at pictures of that time period, if they are available. Movies are another resource I have used. I don’t use this to get my information, but if I need help visioning something, you can see if there is a movie set in the same time period or a similar one. Because I write a lot of books in a Russian setting (it’s one of my many strange obsessions XD), I have made food popular in their culture or at the time of my setting. Museums are a great thing to try out. For example, if you’re writing a novel about the first American colony, if you’re nearby, you can visit Jamestown, Virginia, where there are so many great museums and historical sites about this! (I went once when I was a young child, and I remember having a great time.) Something I’m using for the research of Project: Believer is I have found an oral history project where someone has put together several videos where people who had lived through an event in my novel give their story orally. All in all, there are many ways you can research for your project that isn’t just in the books!
So where am I at currently in Project: Believer? Right now I am still in the researching phase. I have read one novel that didn’t really cover the information I needed, so I have another one on my list to try out. (I just am going to have to buy this one while the other one I was able to check out from my library.) As mentioned above, I’m currently watching videos from an oral history project, too, and I have a few other random things I’ve done in researching information. It’s been very interesting what I’ve learned so far, but it is just making me insanely excited to start writing!
Where are you at with your current WIP? What’s the setting of your book, historical, modern, or fictional? Which tip was your favorite? Chat with me about it in the comments below!
Until the next post,
Keep on being awesome and never stop writing!