Six Ways to Research Your Novel
There are two types of research you will need to do for your novel.
The first is to find out specific pieces of information. For example, if you are writing a historical novel, you will want to know who the King/Queen at the time was. If you’re writing a thriller, you may want to find out about a specific gun a character uses.
These are easy enough to find, especially with use of the internet.
The second is for inspiration. This can take from five minutes to five months, to even five years in some cases. You can’t always expect all ideas to fall into your lap with fully formed plots, themes and characters. Such gems may occasionally come along, but usually an idea will arrive to you as a vague premise, and one that may not always be fully formed.
For creativity to go out, creativity has to go in.
And I really believe that.
Take my favourite film maker Quentin Tarantino for example. His movies have been praised for their originality. However, Tarantino has just taken his favourite parts of his favourite films and put them into his own. Pulp Fiction was a reference to pulp crime novels of the fifties, Kill Bill was a homage to eighties exploitation martial arts films.
Yes, you can try to come up with an idea that is completely yours without influence. Then you can hit your head against the wall and get angry that the ideas aren’t coming.
Or, you can take inspiration and add your own unique writing to it. It’s a lot easier when you don’t expect yourself to be able to do everything from scratch.
A day of writing is long and hard. You need constant breaks. So fill them with inspiration.
For example, I may write for an hour, break for thirty minutes, and repeat. In the break I’ll go on Netflix and watch a show of a similar theme of genre to watch I’m watching.
Writing crime? Find a true crime documentary.
Writing about ghosts? Find a paranormal horror film and watch it in segments between sessions.
Find real life stories. Discover what experiences real people have had. The internet is full of anecdotes from strange people about strange things.
For example, my novel Demon’s Daughter is about a possessed baby. Bizarrely enough, there are lots of people who claim they've experienced such a thing! So I looked up these stories, lots of them, from different cultures, from different time periods, and different sites. There were so many creepy things people claimed their kids had done.
I ended up reading a story about a mum whose infant told her that a legless man was climbing up the stairs – then, the next day, they discover the veteran who lived next door and had lost his legs in Iraq had died. I ended up using this.
Meet people. Talk to them.
Find people that inspire you. Talk to friends of friends. That have knowledge and experiences you need.
Writing a story about a war? Speak to that friend of your girlfriend’s sister who’s in the army.
Sit near strangers in coffee shops and listen. Eavesdrop on the bus. Spy on the train.
See a couple arguing? Note down what they say. You can use it in your upcoming novel about a husband and wife at war.
Quentin Tarantino had a conversation with David Carradine, who played Bill in Kill Bill, about why Superman was his favourite superhero. Tarantino ended up putting the exact conversation they had into Kill Bill Vol. 2.
Visit places that will inspire you.
I set one of my horror stories in a haunted prison. I found lots of information about Gloucester Prison’s hauntings on the internet, and I used these real life reports into the story to give it authenticity. I didn’t manage to visit that prison, but I visited a few others that claimed to be haunted, and experienced what it was like to walk around them. I stood where the gallows were, in the cell claimed to be most haunted, in the darkest wings.
Go to a museum to do with your book’s subject.
Go to the place your book is set.
Writing a scene in a swimming pool? Go sit at the side of a swimming pool and write it. You’ll look weird, but you’ll be able to describe exactly what your characters are experiencing.
Read books in the same genre as yours. Read non-fiction to do with the subject area of yours. Read memoirs of people who’ve experienced what your characters have.
The Conjuring films are based on the real-life exploits of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. I read their books to give me ideas about how ghosts supposedly attack. I didn’t use anything specifically that they wrote, but the tone of the paranormal investigators in my book was heavily influenced by this.
Surround yourself with images.
Writing a story set in the slums of Brazil? Go on google images, print some pictures of them out, and stick them on the wall around your desk. See and feel your story as your write it.
There is so much inspiration in the world. Go out and find it!
Think about an idea you have for a story that you still need to develop.
Use three of the above ways to research to gain inspiration. Jot ideas down on your notepad as you go.
Look at your ideas after you do this. How much have you gained in your story as a result of your research?