The research behind the writing

Have you ever read a story that is so immersive in the time, place, and setting, that you could swear the author must have lived through what they were writing about?

First off, that’s the sign of a good writer. And secondly, that means the writer did such a fantastic job of researching their subject and setting that nothing ever jarred you out of the story because it felt out of place. In fact, it felt natural.

Honestly, as an unpublished writer, research is something I both love and hate.

I love it because, hey, I love to read! I love to learn new things! I will happily spend an hour diving down a rabbit hole about Henry VIII’s wives, and emerge on the other side knowing far more than I ever needed to about cleaning practices in the 16th century.

But I also hate it because it takes time away from the actual writing of a story, making that dream of publication seem even further out of my grasp.

However, if I want that dream to become reality, I have to make sure my story won’t be picked apart by a well-meaning editor just doing their job.

A lot of people think that historical writers are the only ones who need to research. And while, yes, historical fiction writers bear the brunt of research, since the setting of their stories is critical before they even put one word on the page, almost any kind of writer benefits from a helpful librarian, a good search engine, and free time to browse Wikipedia.

mistletow-webFor example, I’m working on a Christmas romance novella that takes place in the Mt. Hood area of Oregon. I wanted a specific landmark to be covered in mistletoe, but then I had to stop and think: Does mistletoe grow in Oregon? (Yes, it will grow pretty much anywhere.)  There is a snowstorm brewing that strands a few characters in my fictional town for several days. I had to do a quick search of typical winter weather in that area, because the last thing I need is for the whole thing that sets the story in motion to not be possible because Oregon only gets an average of two feet of snow a year (it doesn’t, by the way). Even the livelihood of one of the characters has to be researched: I want the hero to be an Iditarod competitor who trains dogs and takes tourists on dog sled excursions during the off-season. But wait– is that even a thing outside of Alaska? Thanks to Google, I now know that it does, and that I need to convince my husband that we need to take another trip to Oregon in winter so we can take a dog sled ride (all in the name of research, of course!).

violin-webAnd don’t get me started on my symphony murder mystery! A lot of the research in that story has taken the last four years, because it’s literally the job I do of a living every day. I’ve learned so much about my field, and I can channel that into my story. However, the only things I know about murder are what I’ve read in other murder mysteries and seen on TV, so that part of the story definitely requires some research. (You all will vouch for me if the FBI confiscates my computer for disturbing web searches, right?)

So, the next time you fall down a rabbit hole in the name of research, just tell yourself: it will make your story better in the long run.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am thankful for all of our bloggers and readers here at Inspirational Messages!



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Stephanie Ludwig is a former reporter turned public relations professional who loves Jesus and writing about mysteries, music, and murder. She is an avid L.M. Montgomery fan, and collects anything having to do with Anne of Green Gables.

9 thoughts on “The research behind the writing”

  1. For my WIP I learned about the various rules for live “battleship” competitions with canoes and buckets in a swimming pool. I so totally want to do this! Happy researching Stephanie!

    1. Jenny, that sounds like a lot of fun! You should totally do that! In the name of research, of course. 😉

  2. You’re so right. Getting the facts correct are so important or it can completely destroy the reader’s trust in the author. And detailed research for contemporary is just as important as it is for historical–I keep folders of research on each of my books. The problem lies when there are questions to ask, but have no clue to ask them.

    1. Hmm, I’m not sure what to do when you don’t know where to ask a question. Google is a GREAT start, I’ve found, or asking friends, family, and Facebook fans if they have any idea, or “know” someone they can put you in touch with. When in doubt, I guess use your imagination!

  3. I love research! And I do go down paths that obliterate time and space. Good thing I’ve never had an actual deadline. Even in fantasy stories, you have to be able to keep things consistent in your world, and sometimes that takes research of a sort.

    1. Dawn, that’s true. I know in some fantasy series my husband has read, there are entire glossaries of words, terms, and events, because those stories are SO complex. Even JRR Tolkien has entire books devoted to the history of Middle Earth, which makes his most famous work, Lord of the Rings, that much richer because of the detailed “research” he did on its history!

  4. Your Dad and I could help with yhe dog sled research. We went to a musher’s camp when we were in Alaska

  5. I love falling into a book and feeling like I’ve just armchair traveled or stepped back in time. I have so much respect for authors who can pull that off and because I am a librarian I know how extensive and time consuming research can be. I’m pretty trusting in the author’s research skills though — it’s not often that I find something I might question. I just finished reading a book by Kim Vogel Sawyer set in the Appalachians in the early 1900s and goodness, everything from dialogue to setting to historical details was completely captivating. So well done. Oh — and I love when authors give details about their research in their notes at the end of the book.

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