This month’s discussion blog post is from Judith Silverthorne, author of many historical fiction books ranging from dinosaurs in the Jurassic to convict ships in 1842 to ghost stories of the 1900s. Here she talks about her favourite ways of finding information.
What about you? What problems have you found in doing research? How has research enlivened your writing? What unique or unusual sources have you discovered?
Here are Judith’s thoughts:
Research for writing projects can take many turns and lead to a variety of unexpected sources. Whether you are writing nonfiction, fiction, or poetry, research is necessary to find information about people, places, societies, settings and even right spellings and connotations of words.
An obvious source for basic information, fact checking and the like is the internet. The internet can be useful in leading you to other great resources, providing ideas and contacts that you might not otherwise have contemplated. However, it is important to check information with primary or other reliable sources to make sure the information is from a reputable authority or knowledgeable professional. Sometimes they’re not easy to find, but be diligent.
Typical research includes names for characters, attributes of personalities, types of clothing or attire, customs, technology, dwellings, geographic descriptions, even the types of weather at a certain time and place in history. Attitudes of society and social context can be found in other books about your topic, while libraries, archives, museum, art galleries, historical societies, and the like are rich resources that can lead you to documents, letters, diaries, and other personal insights.
Connecting personally with experts in the field of your topic is also very useful. Whether about forensics, medicine, the law or sailing tall ships, trudging through a rain forest or dwelling in the artic, contacting those who have relevant knowledge and experience is one of the best ways to get what you need to make your stories accurate and believable. Academics and other specialists often have specific information or knowledge you won’t find in public sources, and can help you add depth and richness of detail to your writing,
One of the single most valuable ways to research a particular location is to travel to it and explore the locales and talk to local people and historians. If you’re fortunate, you may find living history re-enactments or special commemorative situations where you can become involved in the real life adventures you are writing about.
Being informed and understanding your topic fully goes a long way towards discerning which parts of your research are the most valuable for use in your writing. Researching enough to immerse yourself in the culture or milieu of your setting is the best way to write a believable setting and atmosphere. Your readers will thank you for it, or better yet, they won’t even notice, because you’ve done such a fine job of blending and including your research that they become totally engaged in your work.