You want to write a story, but don’t know where to begin. The setting is current, your idea is for the main character to be a firefighter. Problem is, you’ve never even known a firefighter—you’ve only watched a movie about one.
Or, maybe your story is set in Boston, in the early 1900’s. You’ve never even been to Boston.
You need to research, but where do you begin? How do you find the information you need?
My first works of fiction were historical, and at the time, I had no home computer and no access to internet. Yes, I know—ancient days. We still had an antennae connected to our television, and the phone was on the wall.
I drove to the library, and returned home with a stack of books. These included a book that gave the reasons behind the stock market crash. Another book about the famous cruise lines of the day, a pictorial history of the Great Depression, and a couple of well-known novels set in the 1920s.
I hoped these would help me work up a timeline and get into the mindset. They did, to a degree. But my resources were limited.
These days, it’s a lot easier and so much more convenient. You can Google whatever you need to research. You don’t even have to leave home. Here are a few things you may not have considered:
- You Tube videos from the 1920s and ‘30s – even one that shows a family on a cruise ship. You can also find newsreel videos on a variety of subjects. Very interesting!
- Don’t forget the popular songs of the day, which will add depth and atmosphere. Listen to them, as you construct scenes.
- Current events – these can add reality to your conversations, fill a quiet moment of contemplation. Troubling events often occupy our thoughts. Your character would react in much the same way.
- Google locations can take us to the very spot. Select “street view” and voila! You’re looking at houses and images that will add definite reality to your writing. The earth is at your fingertips. Choose a location and go there. It’s not quite as good as actually being there, but it’s better than nothing.
- Make the trip. Even a short day trip or over-niter is often enough to inspire your writing.
- Antique shops and cemeteries! If your story is historical, visit local antique shops. Look for interesting ordinary objects that would populate a home from your particular era. Sometimes, the shop owners/clerks can help you. We have a number of antique shops near my home, along with a cemetery dating back to the early 1700s. What a wealth of information can be gained, just walking around in there.
Current interests, like the firefighter, can be easily researched on the internet. You’ll find numerous blog posts, news stories, television shows, movies. After you’ve read enough to get a good background, I suggest you call a local fire department and see what’s available to you. In some cases, a writer can tour the department, and interview actual firefighters.
Today, if we can imagine it, we can find it on the internet. Your setting is in the Antarctic? Or, your main character is a science officer on a space station? No problem.
Stay tuned all month for more articles from our contributors on research, how-to, and why. We’ll give you tools to make your writing pop.
Writing Prompt: Arlene knelt in front of the tombstone. Weather had etched it until she could barely make out the dates 1652 – 1717. There was only one name—Corley—was it the surname? And beneath it, three words…