Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Research Your Topic, Setting and Characters

Factual details add depth to every short story and novel, especially in terms of plot (killing a character in a murder mystery) physical location (the names of streets for a chase scene in Rome), activities performed by your characters (the equipment required to scuba dive in Norway compared to snorkeling in the Bahamas) and character descriptions.

Good research makes your story more believable because the author presents verifiable facts, interweaving “what if?” scenarios and implausible actions in a logical format. While some of these details can come from the author’s personal experience, it never hurts to perform additional research.
Internet search engines such as Google, Bing, Ask, Yahoo and others are all excellent sources of information, especially when researching specific topics.

Check news sites for stories on your topic of choice. For example, a search for the Zika virus had more than 44 million matches on Google alone.

In the pre-internet days, authors used libraries and books for research. While many people consider libraries and paper books obsolete and outdated in today’s technological world, books are still a very valuable resource.

For example, let’s assume you are writing a murder mystery. You want to have a victim die of poison, but not something exotic. Your villain needs to be able to whip up a deadly dose using common kitchen items. Where can you find a resource that helps you concoct just such a poison?

One answer is Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons. Part of the Howdunit Series of non-fiction books (currently 17 books) by experts in their fields, Deadly Doses was written by Serita Stevens and Anne Klarner. One online review of Deadly Doses is, “This book goes into detail about various poisons, the ease of access in obtaining them, and everything else that would help to explain why a character would choose a certain poison.”

Look hard enough and you can find answers to most of your questions. Can food crops grow in Martian soil? Andy Weir, author of The Martian, did his technology research.

Good authors take copious notes, copy web page links or both. When they get to a section where they need to describe a product or past event, they can look it up. This author uses two monitors: one for writing and one for research.

Another great research tool is Google Earth. Do you want to describe a foreign land without paying a fortune to visit it, or clutter a table with paper maps? Google has a free version for casual research and a fee-based pro version that uses data layers.

Authors can also use research to determine a character’s appearance. Novelists can get sued for libel and defamation of character by describing an individual too closely. For example, describing an ex-spouse or friend to the level of detail where that person could reasonably assume the author was writing about them—even with a different name—could get the author sued.

A vivid imagination lets you determine what kinds of personality traits the character might and have what kinds of experiences they went through to become the person they are. Research allows the author to describe physical characteristics (e.g., scars, tattoos, eye color, hair color, etc.) can be associated with those traits.

A method I use during the writing and rewriting processes is asking questions. A heroine sees she is about to be attacked by a mugger in park. How can she defend herself? The author can include some references to moves common in karate or tae kwon do to ensure the moves seem real.

The more accurate your research, the more real and enjoyable your book becomes to your reader, Believable descriptions make a huge difference in generating positive reviews, which translates into sales.

No comments:

Post a Comment