Research – Love it, hate it, but…

It is a necessary evil for any writer.

Having my facts straight has always nagged my subconscious. The last thing I want is for a reader to catch something in my writing simply because I didn’t do the research. The novel I’ve started writing will require tons of research. And it terrifies me.

What really brought this on, believe it or not, was reading 50 Shade of Grey (I know, again). The glaring error of giving an American character completely British characteristics and vocabulary. It completely took me out of the story. In another example, I read Lavinia Kent’s novellas set in the English Regency period. The stories were good, but one little thing took me out of the story. Her character’s kept saying they “had her friend’s back”. I’m pretty sure that’s a pretty new phrase. I knew what she wanted to convey, but to use such a modern phrase messed up the story for me.

Considering I’m more than likely going to self-publish my work, this fear is amplified exponentially. I will be editing the manuscripts myself. Though I will have beta readers look over the works before I publish, it still ultimately falls to me. I don’t want to fail my readers by including a glaring error that could have easily been corrected with a little bit of research.

Here are a few things that have occurred to me recently:

Names – Though it may seem like common sense, use names common to the area where the story is written. I had a contest entry that was essentially reamed because of the characters name. Why his name didn’t match the norm was explained in the next chapter, but since the judge didn’t receive more than 10 pages of the story, they didn’t know. And, that judge happened to be from the area I was writing about.

Places – So many things change over time: railroad lines, street names, neighborhoods. For the novel I’m researching, surprisingly, many street names remain. What doesn’t remain, is the neighborhood where I intended to set my story. The neighborhood used to be 36 square miles and now is only a semblance of itself at 6 square miles. And the demographic has changed significantly.

Clothing – Another item that can make a significant difference in the story. Clothing can also help you tell the story. Even now, different regions, time periods and even financial situation can affect clothing choices. Even the type of clothing worn by children and adults can make a significant difference in the story.

Area demographics – Towns change over time. What may be the declining part of town could have been the place to be, the center of commerce fifty years ago. And vice verse. I know in my current residence, if the town founders came back, they wouldn’t be able to navigate the downtown area because I think just about every street name has changed.

I never really realized just how much research went into some of the historical romance novels I’ve read over the years. After I started school, and now researching this novel, I have a new appreciation for the authors who craft them.

So, while I am looking forward to learning more about the area where my novel is set, I’m also terrified I will forget something, maybe even miniscule, that will take my reader out of the story. All I can do is try my best and get as much information as I can. Once it’s all said and done, I’ll have to let you know just how many resources I ended up using!

Have you run into this same issue in your writings? How did you get handle the research?

Melanie

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7 thoughts on “Research – Love it, hate it, but…

  1. If I don’t have a story or character in mind, research can often trigger that spark. On the other hand, if I’ve got a story tickling my mind or a character who won’t shut up, I have to write the story then check facts after the first draft is done. But everything you mentioned is one of the reasons I don’t see myself writing a historical despite loving them πŸ™‚

  2. If I’m in the middle of writing something and I’m not sure about a fact, I have to stop and look it up. I can’t just say, “I dunno, guess I’ll clean it up later.” Maybe if I was better organized I’d think of these things before I started writing, but I doubt it; I’m sure I’d run across something that I hadn’t thought to look up.

    1. John, I worried about that too. But I think there’s only so much we can read before we start writing. At least for me, I can research something then as I start writing, little things that never occurred to me start popping up because I never know where my characters are going to take me. But at least with the research ahead of time, I have a starting point and can flesh out the unknown’s during the editing process.

  3. This post was useful – mostly because I’m trying to write a book set in a historical period too and it was reasurring to find someone who shares the fear of getting the details wrong.

    It’s early days yet but at the moment I’m handling my research by reading lots of overviews to get a feel for the atmosphere I think the book should have and then researching specific things that i know are going to crop up later on. .

    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. I popped over to your blog. Paranormal and regency…you’ve got me curious now πŸ™‚ For a while, the fear was so bad I didn’t even want to attempt an historical, but I like history so I can’t let the fear rule. Thanks for stopping by!

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