This is the fourth post in the Confessions of a New Author series. This series chronicles my adventures of becoming a self-published author, from the very moment I woke up and decided to be an author to when I finally published my debut novel and beyond.
The last post in this series focused on creating your characters from the ground up (if you missed that blog, you can find it HERE). So now you have your plot and your characters. Time to start writing, right? Sure, if you want… But chances are, you still have lingering plot questions. You may have your character with a serious disease, but you’re not sure about the symptoms of said disease. Or perhaps your novel takes place in the Old West, but you’re not sure if certain technological advancements existed back then. Well, friend, the only way to solve these questions is through (you guessed it) RESEARCH!
What? Like back in high school? Meh, kind of. But it doesn’t have to be. So, then what kind of research are you talking about? Well, it depends on your plot.
In Finding Paradise, my female protagonist lives in Arizona but boards a flight to Hawaii. How long is that flight? I Googled it. My female protagonist learns stand-up paddling while in Hawaii. I’ve never been stand-up paddling, so again, I took to Google and YouTube to learn the dynamics of SUP. But when the internet wasn’t enough for me to write a good SUP scene, I went beyond Google and learned how to SUP (find out more in this earlier blog post). Sometimes, my research consisted of asking my friends a few questions about their past relationships or experiences. And because Finding Paradise took place in Oahu, an island near and dear to my heart, I was able to look at old pictures to better describe locations on the island (Google helped on that too).
Novel research can range from using Google and YouTube to Pinterest and WebMD. It can stem from learning new things yourself to asking others for their personal stories (just be careful not to plagiarize someone else’s personal experiences). Research no longer means drumming through encyclopedias in the library (only people born in the previous millennium will understand that reference). It can mean a variety of things to get answers to the questions you might have for your plot to become more believable.
What if you write that one of your secondary characters broke her arm and was all healed up two weeks later, but your reader was someone who had actually broken their arm once? You’d lose credibility as a writer. What if the scene of your novel described the chilly weather of late autumn in Arizona when your reader lives in Arizona and knows that they cold crisp air of November doesn’t exist like it does in Utah? Again, you’ll lose credibility. The little details of your plot matter. Maybe not to every reader, but that doesn’t mean you should cut corners to save time in writing your novel. A few hours of research will only help your book. Trust me: if you don’t do your research now, you will end up doing it in the middle of your writing, and nothing is more frustrating than having to stop in the midst of your story because you don’t know how long to bake a three-tier wedding cake.
As you are planning your novel and you are drawing up your plot, jot down elements of your story that you need to research: what is the weather like in the summertime in Ohio? How long does it take to drive on a road trip across the United States? What are the early symptoms of pregnancy? What questions you research is largely based on your plot. Perhaps you won’t have to do any research at all (doubtful, but it’s possible).
If your plot calls for it, I strongly encourage research in the form of personal experience. As I described above, I learned to SUP on a lake in the Rocky Mountains to get the full experience of paddling rather than just learning the technicalities of it from YouTube. I felt that this improved the SUP scene in Finding Paradise better that if I just relied on Google. If your plot calls for research that you are able to responsibly and safely experience, by all means, do it! Not only will it make your novel better, but I bet it will make a great story to share on Facebook too!
Thank you for reading, and keep writing your heart out.