Author and book coach Meredith R. Stoddard is visiting today to share 5 essential research tips for fiction writers. I met Meredith because we both had chapters included in Launchpad: The Countdown to Writing Your Book and were interviewed on a YouTube show together. Her chapter is full of valuable advice on how to do research, so I asked her if she would share some tips for my audience. Her post is below.
What can a fantasy author tell you about researching fiction? First, that it doesn’t matter what genre you write; believability is key. For everything from historical fiction to sci-fi, keeping your readers immersed in your story depends on making them believe what you are writing. That means that even when writing about the magic system in a fantasy book, or describing a government in a dystopian world, we have to start by grounding it in something familiar to your audience. Those things that readers already know to be true are the foundation that we can use to build castles, spaceships, and fairy realms. Even a fantasy writer like me, has to ground some things in reality, or at least the semblance of reality.
#1 Put yourself in your characters’ shoes
Building a credible world for your characters to move through, and telling how your characters relate to that world means that we need to know everything from what they eat to how they sleep. Where do your characters shop? What do they wear? Which jobs do they have? What kind of laws affect their daily lives?
Fortunately, YouTube is full of videos showing people walking through places, and activities that can give you clues. You can search for “day in the life” videos by location, profession, or demographic. There are videos of markets and grocery stores, and cooking videos of national or regional dishes. All of these things can give you ideas for describing how your characters live. If your settings are real, you can use Google Street View to walk around many places in the world.
#2 Research for all five senses
You’ve probably heard that you should write for all five senses. That means you should also research for all five senses. Your readers are going to want to know what your fictional world and even your characters smell like. They’ll want to know the sounds, tastes, textures, and sights of the world you’re creating and how your characters perceive them. Pay attention to those details while researching. Those details will draw your readers in.
#3 Look for more than just the facts
The way we and our characters experience the world is subjective. Just as much as facts make your work believable, giving your readers opinions and letting them react to the world around them is important. This helps with characterization and gives your work an emotional punch. Reaction videos and product reviews are great sources for understanding people’s opinions and seeing how they react to events. Listening to people tell their own stories is also helpful.
#4 Use Smart Search Terms
The amount of information on the internet is ever-expanding. Sifting through that information to find what you need can be difficult and overwhelming sometimes. Search engines help, but sometimes getting the exact results you’re looking for is a challenge. You can make search engines work for you by using some simple commands to refine your searches.
Putting your terms inside quotation marks will search for your terms exactly, while adding a tilde in front will include synonyms for the words you’re searching on. A dash before a word in your search terms will exclude the word that follows it. This is useful for narrowing searches of common terms. You can specify the kind of results you’re looking for by using location: or filetype: before your search terms. All of these refinements can help you sift through the volumes of information and get the results you need.
#5 Check your sources
Unfortunately, the internet is also full of misinformation or articles that are out-of-date. When you find the information you’re looking for, you should make note of the sources of the information. Because it is so easy to post articles on the internet, it’s important to be skeptical of the information you find. If you’re looking for facts, be sure to use multiple sources for confirmation. Know the business model of websites you are using as sources and be conscious of the potential for bias. Wikipedia is a great resource, but it is crowd-sourced so its accuracy will vary. It does require that editors include their sources, so it makes a good bibliography. You can also use fact-checking websites like Factcheck.org, MediaBiasFactCheck.com and Snopes.com.
There is a lot more I could say about researching for fiction. In fact, I wrote a chapter on researching for Launchpad: The Countdown to Writing Your Book with more details. The key thing to remember is that everything we read or observe feeds into what we write. The best research for fiction is observing the world and the people around us.
The Once & Future Series
Celtic legends and modern life collide in this saga of a contemporary woman coming to grips with a destiny set in motion generations ago. Inspired by her unusual childhood in rural Appalachia, Sarah MacAlpin is set on pursuing a career as a folklorist. She had a rough start in life but has worked tirelessly to set herself on the right track. Just when Sarah comes closest to reaching her professional goals, a startling revelation turns her whole world upside down.
The River Maiden, book 1 of the Once & Future series is free on most ebook platforms.
Launch Pad: The Countdown to Writing Your Book
You can read Meredith’s chapter on research and my chapter on grammar in Launch Pad: The Countdown to Writing Your Book.
Each focused chapter brings authors and would-be-authors closer to the creation of a story well told and ready for publication. The brainchild of entrepreneur, author, and speaker, Grace Sammon, this book series builds on the wildly popular radio show LAUNCH PAD – celebrating book releases and the authors who create them. With countdown tips, ways to connect directly to the authors, and bonus downloadable planning sheets, LAUNCH PAD delivers a craft book that speaks right to you.
More About Meredith
Meredith R. Stoddard is the author of folklore-inspired fiction including her Once & Future Series, a contemporary fantasy series that blends Celtic legends with modern life. She is also a book coach at The Book Grower, and the Communications Director of Bookish Road Trip, a community of readers, writers, and travel lovers where she hosts an Instagram Live program called Author Ride Along. She is a contributor to the Launch Pad Countdown series on writing, publishing and marketing books from Red Penguin Books, and a member of Author Talk Network. Her latest novel Thistle & Lion will be released June 8th, 2023.
Visit her websites:
Hi there! I’m Stacy Juba, an author, freelance editor, and the founder of Shortcuts for Writers. I’d love to connect. If you’re a writer, here are a few ways we can work together:
Enroll in my Book Blurbs Made Simple mini course for just $9
Sign up for my free, on-demand self-editing masterclass
Check out my courses and workshops
Visit my editing services page