Monday, October 10, 2016

5 Tips to Researching your Fiction

I am always on the lookout for new places to conduct research on whatever project I might be working on. Even though I might be writing fiction it's important to get the details down right when describing a real location or event. We can afford to make up our dystopian worlds. We can't afford to ignore reality completely. Some of the things we do might seem obvious, but even those obvious places to look can hold hidden gems that we can find to make our work unique if we look far enough. We need to be able to look beyond just what is around us for other ways to conduct research.

1. Using the Internet.  Ever since I discovered the internet it has been a wonderful source of research material for me. What could be easier than typing on the keyboard and suddenly whole new worlds open up. We can go back in time, we can look at pictures of far away places, we can look up any subject we might desire.  But go beyond generic places like wikkipedia or google or bing. If you're going to research the Gold Rush in California, look up state locations that list maps or find pictures from the time. Look for thesis material or other research that others have done that you might be able to use to learn more about the time and the setting.

2. Don't ignore the library.  I always enjoy spending time in libraries and just like with the internet the material might all be there in front of you but again, go beyond the main, obvious research tools. Look for texts or books that might be different than what you would find in other locations. Probably the best thing about going to the library is the presence of the librarian. Ask questions. These people always seem to know where you can find anything and everything.

3. Research the location from a distance with whatever is available. Yes, I know we can't necessarily take a trip to Tibet, but look for other small ways to research the location in your own location. Check out communities to see if there is place you might visit that would give you a feel for a place or its people. We're talking restaurants or stores watch for a museum show that might give you what you need to learn. Ask around for people who might know someone who is an expert or from that country.

4. Take a trip to the actual location. This is not always possible, especially if you are writing historical novels where it is not only a question of distance, but also time. Museums are of course always a good idea because you can see artifacts from a certain time period of place.

Recently I got the opportunity to visit the inside of old Fort Bent, Colorado, a location that figures into a book I am writing that was actually only a few miles from where I grew up. The fort was originally built by the Bent brothers as a trading post along the Santa Fe trail. It was a busy post at its prime.

It has been restored to resemble the early days of Colorado. Now visitors can see what life was like in the early days and hear stories of the past from tour guides who have been specifically trained for the parts of their past personas. It gave me a real feel for being in the Old West.  

5. Take a class in the subject. Local community colleges often offer classes that might give you an opportunity to take part in textiles from around the world or photography or a class on biology might give you insight for a project involving a biologist.  If you're writing a police story, take a citizen's academy where you can learn the proper procedure a police officer might use. 

These are just a few local places you can learn to do research without going too far from home. We'll look at more ways to conduct research in the future, but this should get your story started.

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