Research: Love It or Hate It, You Gotta Do It

Today, Crystal Caudill is sharing her ideas on researching stories. So let’s get started!

Research. You either dread it or love it. Regardless of your sentiment, as a diligent writer, you have to do it and do it right. Whether new at the researching game or old hat, it is my prayer that this post will give you a little bit of guidance, a few resources, and a “whole lotta” inspiration.

I will be tackling this from the historical fiction angle, but anything written here can be applied to any genre’s research needs.

Where do I start researching?

Think of the act of researching as similar to drawing a tornado—you start with wide broad spirals that narrow down to a very focused point the closer you get to the ground, or in this case, your story.

With this in mind, I recommend starting wide and shallow before you ever write the first word of your story. Get a feel for what the politics, economy, culture, major events, fashion, etiquette, industries, technology, and social constructs were like for the setting of your story. These could have potentially content-altering information that can cripple a story if you find out too late.

Honestly, my favorite way to get a broad overview is to find children’s history books on the topics. They often have lots of interesting tidbits while giving you a broad sense of what is going on. It also helps to guide you in to more narrow and deeper research.

Once you have a general understanding of the times, then you can really narrow in on the specifics of your character and situation. Below I’ve listed some topics for consideration and some guiding questions to help you determine what is going to matter most to your character.

Major Topics for Consideration:

Each story is going to have unique needs, so you need to gauge your research based on those needs. If your story isn’t going to have a huge political influence, stop researching politics after you have a general feel for your story’s need. If your story has a rich socialite and a poor man, you are going to need to know the intricacies of upper-class society’s expectations and how they differ from someone who has never experienced it. I think you probably get the idea. 😉

Politics: What major political events were going on during the setting of your story? How might they affect your characters? Most of us don’t live in a bubble, and what is going on in the world filters into our lives and our discussions. Take that into consideration to be sure that there isn’t something that would greatly impact your story’s plot.

For example, if you have your character’s father the owner of a railroad during the railroad strikes, that is going to affect your character in at least some manner. If your heroine lives during the era of growing awareness of women’s rights (a much longer period than you might realize), how will that influence what your character believes, thinks, and says?

Culture: This means looking at the region and locale of your story. What foods, activities, and sayings are common to that area? Are there certain expectations that aren’t included elsewhere? Do they have certain fashions? Are there certain people groups common to that area which would influence the culture of that city?

Cincinnati is heavily German. When I moved here, I experience lots of new-to-me foods, building styles, and a TON of Catholic schools. There were two for the area I’d grown up in. Do your research and you’ll be surprised about what will really add richness to your story.

Economics and Social Status: Different social classes have different expectations and behaviors. How are those going to affect your character? What obstacles will that create? Consider the careers they would be likely to have. What industry do your characters rely on? What is going on in those industries which could affect their lives? The more you know about these things, the stronger your story will be.

When researching my manuscript Counterfeit Love, I discovered there was a “Long Depression” lasting from 1873 to 1896. At the time, they called it the “Great Depression.” What I learned changed and set the baseline for the struggles my heroine faced, even though I never directly connected the two for my reader.

Join us next month for part two!

About the Author

Crystal Caudill is a tea-drinking, book-hoarding, history nerd. Her parents had no idea what a monster they were creating when they took her to her first history museum. From that moment on she has been researching and crafting stories filled with danger, love, and history. She enjoys her Kentucky life as a wife, mother of two crazy boys, and caretaker. You can join Crystal on her writing journey or peruse her book reviews at www.crystalcaudill.com.

Research. You either dread it or love it. Regardless of your sentiment, as a diligent #writer, you have to do it and do it right. @CCaudillWrites via @GailJohnson87 #writingtips

18 thoughts on “Research: Love It or Hate It, You Gotta Do It

    • Oh, I have, Jill! I researched small towns in the south for my current WIP and got caught up in the beautiful scenery and the history. LOL. I didn’t get any writing done that day. 😉

  1. Even though I love research, I don’t always hit all the bases, so I like the organized list! Also, fully agree about the children’s books! My top favorite way to start—AND it has pictures!!!

  2. I hate research. Even thinking about my characters’ hobbies and features has me twitching. But yes, I guess it’s something writers have to do. Thanks for sharing this!

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