Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Research Is The Name Of The Game

Research is not for the faint of heart. Even if you love to dig into dusty tomes of history, the information overload can be overwhelming. You come away with pages and pages of notes, knowing that your story will come alive with such delicious tidbits of history, and yet, as you sit down to incorporate all that collection of knowledge, you don't know where to start. How do you fit all that information into your new story?

You don't!

There is no way to stuff your story full of every piece of history you have uncovered. For one thing, you don't want to bore your reader. And you really only need enough to give the reader a sense of the era you are writing. You want to seamlessly immerse the reader into the setting, making them feel like they have gone back in time. Think of it like the tip of the iceberg. Only use a small percentage, using the larger percentage to anchor your view of the story, breathing into it real life.

So how do you go about all this research? I'm no expert, but I'll share what I know.

The library is an excellent resource. Not only can you checkout history books, you can peruse the children's section for illustrated books on your era of choice. Often these give an excellent overview and you can "see" the era in the illustrations. Don't forget the reference center!

Visit the town, city, or state you are writing about. Don't forget to visit a museum, historical sites, or institutions pertaining to your project.

The internet is such an easy way to research. I am amazed at the many sites I've unearthed that are full of just the information I need. Look at some of the sites I've found:

Organize your research according to categories: Food, Clothing, Transportation, Politics, Religion, Names, Medicene, Entertainment, etc. You can create a three-ring binder, or use programs like OneNote. (My personal favorite!) This can be stored for future reference for the next book in your series. You know you have several up your sleeve!

What is your favorite way to research? Do you have a special book or site you turn to most?



henya said...

A wealth of information. Thanks.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love talking to people in professions I need to learn more about. Members of my church have been fantastic resources.

Excellent online resource links!
~ Wendy

Saumya said...

I love Googling around for hours, haha. I could go on forever. It's very difficult to condense all the research down to the important things. Great tips :)

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thanks for the links. I love Jane Austen's world! And I'll definitely be making time to look up the other sites because I am a total research nerd :)

If anyone is researching the Victorian Era, The Victorian Web is amazing: http://www.victorianweb.org/

It contains over 40,000 documents on the Victorian era.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Arrrggg, blogger ate my long comment. Anyway, thanks for your suggestions, gals! I hadn't thought about church, but there would be a vast array of occupations and experiences there, for sure!

Keli Gwyn said...

I enjoy research and have three shelves filled with reference books. Like Wendy, I've found that I can learn a great deal from my friends and church family. Another place I go to that yields a wealth of information is my historical writers loops. Talk about knowledgeable and generous people. Wow!

Casey said...

I have liked googling, which I know isn't always accurate, but talking to other people has been great help.

I love how Siri Mitchell incorporates history into her books. Usually something you haven't heard of before and she does it in a way that completes entralls the reader while I learn something! :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Especially good resources for me. I ran into a few brick walls for my historical research. I will check out some of these sites.
Great post, Sherrinda

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Sherrinda! My current wip has given me fits when it comes to research. Who would have thought there is so little out there about Spain in the 16th century!? Wikipedia has been a constant source for me...I am interested in checking out the other sites you've recommended. Thanks!

Patti Lacy said...

I love all the ways you said, but my favorite is calling real, live folks.

A N'Awlins octogenerian gardener. Director of a firemen's museum. I meet great folks!!! (and they do some of my work)

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I used to look on research as a chore, but I've really started loving it this past year or so. I usually start with Google, then head for the library with the list of books I looked up. That can get tricky, though, when your local system doesn't have them and you have to do interlibrary loan requests. Especially when you're looking for old and out-of-print books, as I seem to have a knack for doing. :)