Tips For Writing a Book – Part 1 – Research

Want to write a book and don’t know where to start? Well, you’re in the wrong place! No, but seriously, in this six-part series, I’m going to share some advice I’ve gleaned over my years as a writer. But, I’m not a writing expert and this is NOT a definitive ‘How to write‘ guide – which is partly because those don’t exist. What works for one writer, may not work for another. If anyone says they can definitively teach you how to write a best-selling, award-winning novel – ask “how much”? Coz I guarantee you they won’t be giving it away for free. But I am! This is why I’m broke.

So, if you’re looking for a few writing tips to help you on your way to writing your story, these might help you on your quest. Our first stop is research!

1) All books need research

Even if you’re building a world from scratch, or basing your novel on your lived experience, it’s still going to benefit from some research. Fantastical novels grow from reality, be it cutting-edge science or age-old myths from our ancestors. And on the flip side, your near-life story probably still needs some understanding of the background of your other characters, or settings – or whatever else you want to throw in.

Even if you just “make it all up” you’ll still be pulling from all the things you’ve been exposed to in life. Why not make sure that the well of knowledge is as full as it can be with a little background reading? It all adds depth, a sense of realness that helps you connect with your reader.

And when it comes to more Earth-based books, don’t forget that some of your readers may have experienced what you’re writing about. If they read something that doesn’t ring true, not only will they be disappointed, they may write a review to let everyone else know it too.

2) Information is everywhere – so be careful

The presence of the all-powerful Internet may make it seem like research will be quick and easy. But writer beware! Whilst it does take out some of the legwork of old, there are pitfalls. There’s so much information on the Internet it’s hard to know where to start. On top of that, you may have noticed how a lot of it is, well, a bunch of crap! Anyone can publish almost anything without any fact-checking or gate-keeping. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use it, but take what you find with a ginormous pinch of salt and look for multiple sources, both on and offline. And don’t forget to look beyond online. Here are some other ideas for research resources:

  • Books
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Government records
  • Maps
  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Photographs and videos
  • Online forums
  • Podcasts
  • Documentaries
  • Museum exhibits
  • Art exhibitions
  • Radio programmes
  • Guided tours
  • Historical and cultural societies
  • Lectures and talks

3) Record everything

Whatever you find, it’s a good idea to keep a record of it, even if it doesn’t seem useful straight away. Bookmark the webpage, take screenshots or photocopies, stick actual bookmarks in actual books – whatever works. Some writing software such as Scrivener, allow you to gather all your research together within it. However you keep a record of your research, just make sure you keep it handy.

4) Every book is different

How much research you do depends on the book you want to write and your existing knowledge of its subject matter. If you want to write historical fiction and you’re not a history professor, you’ll need to do a lot of research. If your book is set in a country you know little about or your characters’ are very different from you, you’ll need to do a lot of research. Ultimately only you can know when you’ve got enough to start writing.

As you research, you’ll naturally start fleshing out characters, mapping settings, and noting plot points. What you find will feed your planning and vice versa as you uncover more things to find out about. Be careful not to get stuck in an endless loop.

5) Don’t stop researching when you start writing

Even if you do a detailed plan, your book (or more likely your characters) will go ‘off script’. They’ll throw up questions and situations you hadn’t considered – and you’ll need to go with it! Be prepared to either down tools or make a note to do some extra research when you’re out of the writing flow.

I hope you found these words of advice useful. The next step on our writing journey is something that overlaps with research – planning your characters.

Related reads

Tips For Writing A Book – Part 2 – Characters

Tips For Writing A Book – Part 3 – Plotting

Tips For Writing A Book – Part 4 – The First Draft

More about my books

13 thoughts on “Tips For Writing a Book – Part 1 – Research

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  1. Harry Turtledove (PhD in Byzantine history, UC Berkeley; alt history & fantasy novelist) once said do 100% of the research, but only show 5%, in such a way that the reader knows you did 100%. Tricky, but effective.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think his big concern was to prevent the novel from becoming a history treatise. After doing that research, we want to share it, but risk large, potentially dull, infodumps, which kill a lot of otherwise decent to good works.

        I think Hermann Melville’s a good example of what not to do. Moby Dick is significantly better (still terrible, IMO, but better) when we ignore all the chapters detailing the ins & outs of the 19th century, New England whaling industry.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: How to write*

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