Hello and welcome back to Life of Heritage! A friend suggested this topic to me and I haven’t been able to let it go! I’ve written about books I love to use for research, but today, I’m going to dig into my research process and give you some practical tips on how to research not just a historical novel, but a contemporary one as well!
First thing I like to do is look at my timeline. If I am writing a historical, this will help me know what would have been going on in the world my characters live in, if it directly effects them or if they would have been talking about it. I like to print calendar pages and fill in all the important information, battles/historical dates, character birthdays, things I know will happen the day after or before a historical event, when a baby is due/when it’s born, etc.
For a non-historical novel, I still like having a timeline and calendar, especially since I know To Save a Life would have gone so much better if I had made one ahead of time. I list important events in the character’s lives, holidays and any time the story lines intersect.
(Pro Tip: Use different color pencil lead or pens to help you keep track of who’s POV the event belongs to.)
For Historical eras, this is a no brainer. You find documentaries on the battles, politics, everyday life, etc., that apply to your story. But these can still be helpful for contemporary novels too. 9/11, military life, what it’s like being a chef, a dog breeder, makes instruments, etc., there’s a documentary for that! I once looked up a video about MWDs in the military because a character was a dog handler. I learned so much and by the end I was in tears over the dog that died and another that was reunited with the handler he saved. So, yeah, depending on your topic, get tissues.
(Pro Tip: If you can listen to things while you write, keep a playlist of the documentaries handy so you can immerse yourself in the topic.)
Again, this seems a no-brainer for historicals. But take it a step further and get the books full of random facts and fun stories so you can get a good look at all aspects of life in the times, plus turn up some fun little known nuggets of information!
For contemporary, I usually draw from real life, because, shocker, I’m living it XD But seriously though, I find reading other contemporary novels helpful for this bit of research. Lingos that are used by different ages, ethnic groups or even depending on where you live are invaluable! So keep that in mind as you read, take notes, tab your books, use it all for research!
(Pro-Tip: find out what books were popular in your era of choice! This tells a lot about society as a whole!)
Visit Your Setting
I know we can’t all just pack up and go where our story takes place. Too expensive in some cases, just not possible in others. But you can do so through videos and pictures. Pinterest is one of my favorite ways to collect photos of my settings! I just type in what I’m looking for or stalk my friends’ boards! Give it a try! I’m sure you’ll find exactly what you need!
But hey, if you can visit your setting location, like me, living near Gettysburg, go do it! It’s amazing just how helpful this is to your creative process! Bonus points if you are well enough versed that you can go to the exact place in your story! For me, it was the Wheatfield and Little Round Top! Also I walked Pickett’s Charge, so yeah, I was an emotional wreck…
(Pro-Tip: If you can visit your location and it’s a national park, get souvenirs to remind you of your visit as you write and/or to give away when your book releases!)
Research the music of your era, historical or modern. It’s so helpful! Make a playlist for your book, for your characters even! Music tells a lot about the time, place and people. What influenced them? What was their turn of phrase? How do they express themselves? What of their music speaks to you?
(Pro-Tip: When your readers comment on loving a character, give them your playlist for that character so they can get to know them better!)
What are ways you research your novels? What did I miss? Share your best research tips (or ones you want to try!) below in the comments!
"I'm so glad I live in a World where there are Octobers..." Anne Shirley
Ryana Lynn + Dixie Cross
Christian. American. Southern. Author.
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