Your Banner could be here too!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Researching a Novel

To quote Stephen King: Do the research but don’t overdo it for the reader. I can’t think of anything more awful than having to do research. But just because one is a contemporary fiction writer doesn’t endow one with the privilege of inventing everything. The story has to seem real to the reader.

Serena Fairfax shares some very interesting tips as she talks about her own experience on research for her novels.

I divide research into two types, general and specific, and both are required.  How much research you actually need to do is largely determined by you and what the story calls for.

General research or what I call big picture research is all about accumulating a wide knowledge of the subject matter of one’s book. In other words, identify what you know and what you don’t. Try and read a lot of books that’ll enable you to get a good feel and overview of the period about which you’re writing and the significant events and incidents of that time.  You should combine this by reading a few works by serious historians and other writers that impact on your area of research. The cunning in this is that these books will contain heaps of references to the sources that their authors  used.  You can use these references to short-circuit your own laborious attempts to seek sources.  Another useful tool is Wikipedia that will help you clarify event and details of a given period.

It goes without saying that as you research you should make notes of the salient points and add your questions.  The time-honoured ways of research include the local library, interviewing people who know about what you’re writing about, TV (old movies and documentaries are great), newspapers, archives, the internet, government websites, information pamphlets and the BBC. Remember to ensure that the source is reliable.

The authenticity of novels with an historical setting, crime and medical fiction depend a great deal on accurate and thorough research. Nothing is more chastening than a reader telling you you’ve got quite wrong the gestation period of the giant panda.

Another tip is be organised and to be discriminatory.  Any bits of research you don’t use keep in the freezer – you never know when you’ll need to defrost it. Drip-feed the research into your writing so as not to burden the reader with tedious detail that slows down the narrative.

Don’t be tempted to research before doing the creative part i.e. the writing. It’s much better to write your story and when you hit a piece that  cries out  for research – such as did convicts in Alcatraz keep parrot as pets-  just square bracket the key words.[Alcatraz, parrot]. Then when you feel like a writing pit stop  or have hit a creative bump in the road,  you can research the square brackets stuff.

Well, I digressed and I suspect that’s not uncommon  when one embarks on a research journey. So back on track,   I’ll  tell you about specific research or what I call key details research.  This assists in answering the questions you noted down. It helps to be precise with your search terms on google.  There are probably entire books that deal with your specific questions and such books can be found on Amazon simply by inputting a search term.

Last but not least, friends, professional contacts and acquaintances are invariably delighted to impart useful information and can provide valuable and interesting nuggets, often unavailable elsewhere, and share experiences about their jobs and way of life that can set the creative juices flowing.

Find out more about Serena by visiting our Author, Books & Review Pages  and checking out all her liniks



  1. Great blog, Serena. Coincidentally my own blog at the moment is Having Fun Doing Research, it takes a different tack, although everything you say is spot on. If you want to check out my research post you'll find it here

  2. Some very good advice, Serena! :)

  3. Loved the post Serena. Great advice. I especially enjoyed the part about not overdoing research, and not researching until you've written the creative part. Foxden Acres took me three times as long to write as it should have done becaue I got that wrong. And, I once spent two months researching Poland, Polish aircraft, boarders, dates and times - and where a plane could crash land in France. When I'd finished the novel it was no longer relevant and I had to cut the chapter. Hey ho! But, I kept it and put with all the other cuts on the website. Nothing is ever lost. Thanks again for the good advice. x

  4. It's very tempting to do way too much research - especially if like me you write historic fiction. If you do though there are some really good resources out there such as the Internet Archive. I just did a blog post on how to use the Internet Research to get hold of hard to find out of copyright material for free, see

    You can get PDFs of old books and primary source material such as historic chronicles and other documents. The Internet Archive is a really good resource -