How to Research for Your Writing

Hello, hello, hello! Did you know that starvation is one of the worst ways to die? Or that it’s actually very hard to kill someone with just a single stab? No? Then look it up next time! Don’t take my word for it; thanks to the power of the internet, information is closer and more accessible than ever before!

As a writer, it’s important to know how to research vital information for your writing. A credible murder mystery has to be believable, and by looking up similar scenarios and explications, a writer can better describe a scene for their novel. Research takes time, effort, and a bit of thought, but the end result is worth the work.

Writers and Research

Research is one of the ways in which a writer gives their work credibility. If you story has any footing in the real world, researching key elements is vital to a believable story that people can relate to. Like the above facts, you can look up almost any question you have pertaining to your current story in order to ‘fact’ualize your work.

What Should I Look Up?

A very popular joke in the writing community is that many of us would be interrogated harshly by authorities if they ever read our browser history. For my two sample facts above, I googled “worst ways to die” and “how many stabs can a person take before dying?” to get my answers. These are obviously not things that I want other people (least of all law enforcement!) knowing that I’ve looked up in the recent past.

If you’re ever uncertain about a fact, no matter how small, then the internet is your friend. Things like, “How heavy is a standard textbook?” or “do dead fish always float?” might be crucial details to a writer’s story that they need answered before they describe a scene. Otherwise, they might end up with an even that strikes the reader as being grossly unrealistic, which can negatively impact their reception to the story and completely turn them off of your works.

A rule of thumb I’ve created for myself is this: If I spend more than 3 minutes trying to detail an event or idea, I know I need to google the facts. 

Sure, I might be trying to just figure out how to play out a scene, but if I’m trying to think of a clever way for a crashed bike to explode during a fight, I might search, “what makes motorbikes explode after crashes?” to write in the details for the readers. If I just write, “While the two were fighting, his bike exploded,” it might not sound so great. The reader wonders to themselves, “Will my bike explode? What made that one do so? Is that a common problem? Why haven’t I seen that before?”

Yet, if I were to write, “the nearby flames eagerly entered the fuel tank that had been previously ripped open by the impact of the metal divider, creating a massive explosion. Both of the fighters were knocked off their feet, and the one closest to the fireball howled in pain from the intensity of the fire.”

Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? When you add fact to your fiction it heightens the experience for the readers. Can you do this for everything? Yes and no. Should you? Not unless you want the details to be believable. If you don’t need them to be believable, then don’t worry about it. Some authors skip the details all the time and never have a reader question their work. Some things just aren’t meant to be explained.

If your novel is set in a fantasy land where gravity is subject to every person’s whim, then it’s not much of a stretch for your character to float around aimlessly while traveling. Yet, it’s still a writer’s job to make such a part of their story believable in one way or another. When all else fails, you need your reader to ‘believe the unbelievable’.

Examples of this include: Magic, aliens, altered history, time travel, virtual reality, and more.

When to Research

As mentioned above, a writer should research facts and information when they want to add additional details to a scene or experience in their works. If you want to describe a character who slaves away in the fields planting and harvesting crops, you might want to look up “hand calluses caused by farming” or “hand calluses caused by tools” or even “most common hand calluses”. By having these real life details implemented in your works, readers can connect to the story and believe what they’re reading.

Here’s an example of a character with no credibility in reality: His name was Bork. He was three times the size of a normal human male, but only half the average weight. With hollow bones and helium in his blood, Bork managed to be able to float around Earth’s surface as easily as an astronaut would on the moon. His skin was rainbow-colored, and shimmered in the light. Though his body was void of hair, he had thousands of minuscule scales that provided armor plating for protection. Though he looked to be a god to any human who saw him, his species would casually refer to him as ‘too short’, ‘ugly’, and ‘weird’.

I’ve just given a perfect example of something that has no normal attributes, yet the audience can imagine this alien without problem. Did I do any research? No. Could I? Sure. It’s up the writer to determine how much fact and credibility their stories need. The moment I start talking about Bork interacting with people on Earth, I might start doing research on how tall certain buildings are for when my alien inevitably floats under or over them.

Overall

Although it’s fun to make your writing fanciful and unrealistic at times, there are moments that may need a bit of research to bring the reader back down to Earth and allow them to believe in what they’re reading. Unless of course that’s the complete opposite of your goal; even then, there might be certain things (such as the temperature on Mars during the day, or number of known universes in the galaxy) that you can still benefit from looking up!

How much research do you do before you start writing? Do you prefer to write first and fact-check later? Let us know in the comments below! Let’s get a discussion going, yeah?

Happy reading, writing, working, and living!

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