Three and a half years ago I finally stopped being a journalist. Or so I thought.
The journalistic writing may have stopped, but something stayed, something carried over to my fiction writing. My research skills, including my interviewing skills and more important the realization that even with fiction you need to seek out the experts for some aspects of your novel besides the craft of writing fiction. Most novels contain something else – perhaps medical conditions, perhaps police procedure, perhaps court procedure, perhaps historical information, perhaps socio-economic conditions, perhaps geographic information. The list goes on and on.
So as I write my novels, this research necessity is always in the back of my mind. Coupled with readers’ intelligence and knack to find anything off in my novel, I make notes in brackets in the manuscript about getting more info. I even do separate files with lists of what I need to find and where I could get it.
Some, of course can be found on the Internet. Mr. Google is very helpful. So are books on the subject. But some more specifics may need that personal expert. In the last few years when I did a story for a magazine – print and/or online, and I needed information, I did the list of online links for information as well as indicating where a person was necessary. Sometimes there would be someone mentioned in these links; other times not. Then I used my other writing connections – sometimes posting on a listserve I belonged to – sometimes directly to a contact who might have this info.
I have received some good sources that way including a source who decided he could play guinea pig to be interviewed because he had been involved as victim in the crime. (Yes, this was a story about crime).
Other times I’ve found sources at writing or other conferences – either others attending or a speaker. So I talked to them, let them know what I was doing, and asked if I could interview them.
Usually they could help including letting me interview them.
Sometimes just random conversations with friends lead to sources and sometimes they were the source. Other times it worked for story ideas. That can work for fiction story ideas but that’s for another post.
Another good source is your public library and sometimes it is better to go right to the library, especially if there is a reference library branch. Stacks of books that you can’t find elsewhere and you can’t borrow can be found there – for in-library checking. And don’t forget the knowledgeable librarians. University libraries can also be of great help.
Just remember that because you write fiction, you have to include some facts. You wouldn’t want to have your main character holidaying today in a country using the country’s former name? If you set your story during a war, you definitely want to get your facts right about places and dates. Leave no (research) stone unturned.
Which reminds me – I need to talk to a medical doctor who specializes in concussions for the novel I’m currently writing. I have taken the first few steps, the Internet, books, and getting some contacts from a former medical doctor turned journalist.
Your publisher may catch some or raise questions about others, but what if you are self-publishing your novel? Either way, you the author are responsible. Get your facts right. Act like a journalist but write like a novelist.
Sharon A. Crawford
The book cover at the top links to Beyond Blood on Amazon.com