Friday, August 20, 2010

Do you research your facts?

A fellow writer asked me to read one of her short stories. She told me she was having a hard time finishing this one because she needed to do a lot of research on the topic (one that she is not familiar with). Like her, I find myself in the same predicament. My latest tale involves some medical terminology and illness that I have little knowledge of.
I was lucky to find “Three Strategies for Solid Research,” an article by bestselling novelist, Gayle Lynds. She says that before you can incorporate your research into your writing, you first need to be as smart as possible about the research itself. Ms. Lynds reminds us of the following research strategies:

1. Develop a system for tracking your legwork. “Take a digital camera with you, photograph everything, dictate notes … never lose anything. Never lose anything,” says David Hewson, international bestselling author of the Nic Costa thrillers. “I keep a journal on every book I’m writing that notes down ideas, locations, characters, themes—and I keep a running diary on the book as I’m writing it. This is separate from the draft, so it acts as a left-brain perspective on the whole exercise.”

2. Get in the habit of vetting your research as you go—particularly research conducted online. Verify facts from multiple reputable sources before you record them. This way, you’ll already know that all your notes are accurate when it comes time to incorporate them into your work.

3. Be wary of cutting and pasting research nuggets directly into your manuscript. You don’t want to become guilty of plagiarism by letting someone else’s words get inadvertently mixed in with your own. If you do feel the need to paste in a block of research while you’re writing, be sure to highlight the copied text in a different color so you can go back and remove or rewrite it entirely later.

(Article reprinted from the Writer's Digest, July 20, 2010)


  1. For my first novel I kept files of my research and a box with everything I thought could help me make my novel more authentic since the setting was in Europe—maps, perfume samples, bus tickets, coins, restaurant menus, photos, pamphlets and so on.

  2. I've researched everything down to the smallest detail. My husband once asked me, why? He thought since it was fiction, you should be able to fudge it. My point of view - facts bring it closer to reality and up the believable factor.

    The more knowledgable you are about the subject matter, the more easily the words flow. (Hugs)Indigo

  3. @Laura,
    I wish I would have done that. Now I'm going thru some pics and doing research for some of my stories :(

    Thank you for stopping by. You're so right. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean you have to make everything up. A lot of the great classics are based on historical facts or real places. You can't have one without the other.

  4. I attended a writer's workshop a few weeks ago, and the speaker said she kept notes, and printouts of research of everything that has to do with each novel she writes. She told us that in one of her novels, she made up this weapon by combining stuff she learned about two other weapons. She said she's glad she kept where she got the info/idea from, because she got a visit from the US Govt wanting to know how she knew about the existence of said weapon because it was top secret! She had to PROVE to them that she had no idea it really existed, that she thought SHE had made it up. She showed them her notes and research and her pattern of thinking for making it up. Eventually she convinced them.

    I had to do a lot of medical research for my last novel. My character had to find the cure to a virus. After extensive research, I even emailed a Biology professor. I asked her to review my made-up virus, and to review my made-up cure to see if it was plausible. She gave me the green light, and said "It's both plausible and very interesting."

  5. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for stopping by again. ;)
    This is a fabulous anecdote...I love it! WOW! I can't believe this woman's creativity and intelligence almost got her in trouble. I'm glad she was able to prove her innocence. And you, too, are extremely creative for a Biology professor to admit this particular virus had a cure. Kudos to both of you ladies!
    Thank you for sharing these stories, Anna!

  6. Hi Claudia. I saw your comment on Alex Cavanaugh's blog and I thought it was very astute. So I came by to read your blog and I am now your newest follower.

    Nice to meet you!

  7. Hi Matthew,
    Thank you for stopping by and welcome to my community!
    As you can see (and I wrote in Alex's post)I do reply to my readers' comments ;)
    I hope you continue to read my posts and benefit from them as you are a novice writer (Yes, I read your profile first) ;)
    Keep on writing!

  8. Hi Claudia, I am a wanna-be writer...maybe not novels but articles...but don't know where to start. I enjoyed reading so many of your tips and will continue to check in. Saw you on Blog Frog and I am your 100th follower!!! Do I get a prize for that??? ;-) Nice to meet you! ~Kimberly

  9. Great research tips, Claudia - thank you. I think it's important to verify from more than one source if you use information online.

  10. Hi Kimberly,
    Nice to meet you too and welcome to my blog!
    Congratulations on being my 100th member! Unfortunately, I'm not giving any prizes for that since I just held a writing contest. ;)
    However, I can tell you that you've come to the right blog if you're an aspiring writer. I do welcome questions you may have regarding writing. I also like to hear from my readers if they want me to write something on a specific topic. I'll check out your blog later. Thank you for your readership and hope you continue to enjoy my posts.
    Keep on writing!

    Hi Talli,
    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments. I also like your posts (as you've already noticed, I'm a loyal reader) ;)
    Keep up the good work!

  11. I do not consider myself a writer by any stretch of the imagination, although my imagination can go pretty darn far... but your blog looks so helpful and I need all the help I can get. So I will follow you back. :)

  12. Hi Kristi,
    Welcome to my blog! If you can imagine, you can write. All you need is a bit of practice ;)
    Thanks for dropping by!

  13. Great post - I never thought about taking a digital camera with me to record what I think. Sometimes I will scribble in a notepad though.

    Following from Blog Frog.

  14. I hate doing research, but it is important, even for fiction.

    Also, tracking your research sources and keeping notes is important...many publishers want to see where you found the info and verify it. (even fiction)

    Great blog you have here. :) (now I am your newest follower)


  15. @Unplanned Cooking,
    Thanks for stopping by, hope you do it again ;)
    Carrying a notepad is also a great idea. My fellow writers do it (I only do it when my handbag is not too heavy).

    Thank you for joining my blog. I hope you find my posts helpful. By the way, I love how you describe yourself under your profile, LOL!
    By the way, I wrote a short story about a woman named "Lolita" (a term of endearment for Lola). It was published ;)
    I'll swing by your blog.

  16. Hi, I just found your blog through that MckMama community thing, and as I write myself, I´m glad to find you :-)
    I started writing myself last year in March, but I was astonished to find out my book turned out so personal I don´t even want my husband to read it :-) As for researching, I tend to work with topics I know well, take personal expieriences and dress them up, or ask friends. One of my friends works in a hospital, so I can always ask her where my killer has to put the knife into to achieve a certain effect :-) And I love the internet, especially when it comes to geographie. Google maps is such an awesome tool!

  17. Hi there, Helen Clyde,
    Thank you for stopping by and welcome to my blog!
    Don't worry about how your book turned out. That's why we have editors, right? In the meantime, you can ask a friend or fellow writer to give you feedback. You should give yourself more credit since you just started writing last year. That's a feat!
    Congratulations on your accomplishment!
    I'll visit your blog in a bit ;)