Always quirky, sometimes sweet speculative fiction

Tag: research for novels

Research – Round Two

My earlier post on research referenced online research and how a writer should use their research to enrich the world and create atmosphere, not show how very well you can search through Wikipedia. I just finished reading the section in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ related to research and to use his words, “don’t let the tail wag the dog”. Not sure I could say it any better than that.

In that post I sort of made research sound dull, like you’re stuck in front of your computer trawling the internet for information fish or in a corner in a library flicking through encyclopaedias. Research doesn’t have to be, it can be fun too (not saying the library and computers aren’t fun). Another example, and from the same book, is my trip to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

Mentally I was (still am) quite adamant that I wanted my ‘real world girl’ to live in Brisbane. I moved her into a house I once lived in, sent her to Uni in the heart of the city and even knew the path she would cycle along to get from home to Uni. I also knew if I went to Uni at the Garden Point campus I would have lunch EVERY DAY (well I suppose except for rainy ones) in the Botanic Gardens, so I wanted my girl to have a favourite spot. Everyone has a favourite spot, why shouldn’t she? This required some knowledge I didn’t have, so yay: family trip to the city!

We explored the Botanic Gardens, met a lizard, saw baby pukekoes, played in the bamboo and eventually even found a tree I deigned perfect for my protagonist to sit under every day. I even went to the effort of wearing the clothes I imagined her in the first time I visualised her (hence including that terrible, blurry shot) the white singlet with mystic symbols, the jeans shorts and the fabulous strappy sandals. Of course I’m not 21 anymore and certainly not a red head, but it was fun to play dress-up and get into my characters head, and all in the name of novel research! Now, if only I can convince my husband to let me swim with a manta ray as ‘novel research’.


It’s rather odd researching for a novel. You need to know a lot of details (even when your world is made up) but while you research you have to be careful to not put too much of your findings in your writing and bore your reader. It’s a fine line to walk down. You need to create authenticity with your details, but you can’t bash your readers over the head while fanning yourself with a smug smile that says ‘I know more than you do’.

For example, I spent over an hour trawling the internet looking up Bedouin musical instruments (I started off thinking Arabian musical instruments, but then thinned it down a little more). I researched what they looked like, where they came from, listened to how they sounded on YouTube, all for perhaps a paragraph and a couple of tiny references when a musical troupe performs for my protagonist. The instruments themselves and the music they created were overshadowed largely by their players and the dancer alongside them. Those characters in turn were overshadowed by my protagonist.

I could just have written ‘they played music’, but how does that help illustrate the strange new world my protagonist finds herself in? I detail my music, give you some sounds and a picture for your imagination to work with, but I don’t tell you everything I’ve learned about rebabs and khallols because frankly, the reader doesn’t need to know. The reader only needs the atmosphere the presence of these instruments creates.

That is what your research details are for, creating atmosphere – not showing how well you can comb the internet.

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