So you’ve always felt the bug of writing, but now you really, REALLY want to get it done.
And you have the best idea.
And you start writing, until you get to the point where you’re stuck.
Either because you can’t really describe the Grand Canyon, or put yourself in your character’s depressed shoes, or can’t explain a particularly hard surgery.
Whether because you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, have never experienced depression directly or are lacking the vocabulary, the common denominator is the same: you’re lacking something. And your book can’t be written until you fix that.
So, how do you do it?
Well, I’m no expert. But I’ve written about things I’ve no clue about (and some that I do!) and I’ve even chosen settings for my books where I’ve never even travelled to!
And, in the end, the books came out pretty good 🙂
(Let’s hope I’m not jinxing myself now!)
Before I digress, let me get to the point.
Based on the books I’ve written and what I see some of my author buddies go through, I’d say most of our research where stories are concerned can fit into three boxes: research by travel, by talking to someone who’s experienced it or by, well, book-digging.
Research by travelling
This is probably the most expensive!
At least, depending where you live.
I’m in Canada, but having been born in Europe, I set most of my books there.
So, traveling to Avignon or Ireland or Scotland…well, not that cheap, as far as research projects go!
Which is why I try to keep this particular option to a minimum.
However, if it’s a must for you, there are a few ways you can make it easier on yourself. I recently travelled to Ireland and Scotland to research a book, and found these things super helpful in cutting down costs.
Try to book your flight in advance
This one’s a given, but a lot of people might decide spontaneous trips are the best.
Trust me, much as that’s nice, you’ll save tons of money by booking in advance!
If you do have to wait until the last minute, try cheaper flights like SkyScanner or set up Google flight alerts.
We recently travelled to Ireland/Scotland via Wow Air—a relatively new airline company—and had a blast!
So don’t be afraid to take chances—but, also, check out the reviews on the companies.
Note: If booking a cheaper flight, make sure you check out the baggage rules!
Skip the hotels, and try Air BnBs or BnBs
Not only will you get a more cultural experience, but you’ll feel more at home, reduce the risk of losing your things, and get local tips! Most Air BnB hosts are full of information!
Keep your eating out to a minimum
If you book Air BnBs, most of them come with a kitchen equipped for cooking. Or, at the very least, with a microwave and oven! So don’t be shy—go by the local grocery store, stock up on groceries, and enjoy some ‘home’ meals while you’re on vacay 😉
Car vs train vs other
Transportation can be tricky when going to a new place. And you may not always have to rent a car. For example, Paris public transportation is so well-put together, renting a car is a complete waste!
But in Scotland, I was happy we’d rented, as we were not glued to a fixed schedule and could travel everywhere!
Read up on the area you’re going to and try to get some tips from the locals. They’ll tell you if parking is expensive, etc.
There are tons of other tips/tricks you could use, but these ones are those that, in my opinion, will save you the most money.
And depending on the tax rules of your country, some of these expenses may be deductible as self-employment expenses. So definitely give your local tax office a call to find out!
The main benefit of traveling for research?
Aside from opening your eyes to new experiences, you get to really experience the culture, food and people, all of which will make your book even more authentic.
But what if this is really not a possibility? Well, you still have the following two options!
Research by talking/learning from personal experiences
Scout your friends/co-workers/acquaintances and see if any of them have travelled to a destination you’re writing about.
You don’t necessarily have to tell them you’re writing about it (if you’re shy like me)—you could always just say you’re interested in visiting it. That would be one way to get a full account of the experience.
But what if it’s not a location you need information on?
What if you’re trying to write about anxiety, and a friend of yours has deep-set anxiety?
Should you ask them to describe in detail the symptoms they’re experiencing, then use this to fuel your writing?
The answer is up to you.
But, I would exercise an amount of caution.
Keep in mind people may not want to talk about something so close to their heart.
Some may have no issue sharing a personal experience, while others will.
The key is being a good listener, and being honest and upfront.
Tell them clearly why you’re asking, assure them there is no obligation, and leave it up to them to say yes or no.
Don’t pressure them.
And whatever the outcome, make sure they know your friendship is not on the line for it.
As I’m writing this, another idea popped in my head, related to something I read a while back.
Should you write only about things you’re experienced in? And never touch those you’re not?
That’s a hard question.
To be sure, the book would be better for it if you’ve experienced said event.
But so long as you’re willing to put in the work of researching and understanding the event/experience/etc, nothing should stop you from writing about it.
Of course, it’s quite possible you’ll have critics pointing out your inaccuracies. That’s something to be aware of, and rather than taking it personally, you should ask, ‘What could I have done better?’
Research by book digging
And this brings us to the last research aspect: book-digging. While it may not be as fun as travelling or as connecting as speaking to someone about their experience is, book-digging can still prove to be a wealth of knowledge.
Now, I’m not talking here about Google.
While Google (and other search engines, and the internet as a whole!) are extremely full of information, you may not always fall on a reliable website.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for and where to find said reputable information, you’re best off sticking with your local library.
I’ve done this a few times, and was always amazed at the amount of information I could get or request to get.
Most libraries have a sharing system, so it’s quite possible they’ll be able to get in books they may not usually have on the shelves.
Sometimes, there’s nothing quite as good as sifting through pages upon pages of neatly-written text, illustrations and history, to find exactly what you’re looking for!
And while this may be the book nerd in me talking, I definitely think this is worth exploring!
There are tons of ways to research, and really, what you want is to find the best one for you. Just don’t let a lack of information ever stop you. Knowledge is power.
A word of caution: while research is important, sometimes going with the flow is a better way to serve your muse.
Doesn’t mean you can’t enhance your facts after the writing is done. That’s all part of editing, after all 😉
But don’t let one tiny element stop you from writing the amazing story you’re capable of!
Over to You
What other ways of researching have you used? Any tips/tricks for our authors? Shout out below!