Contemporary Research (Roxann)

Some might wonder why a writer would need to research current information for a book set in the here and now, but it can be just as important as information in an historical novel.  Luckily most of the hunting can be done online.  Some authors go directly to the source, such as a fireman or arson investigator for a suspense novel involving a character who's setting fires.  (I have a friend who did this and was rewarded with learning small details she might not have discovered.)  Medical information is often needed if a character is a doctor or nurse or other health provider, or if a character is a patient or has an accident or illness.  Make your character come to life by knowing as much about his or her life as you can learn.

Settings are another topic that contemporary writers frequently research.  If a story takes place in an area--city or countryside--that's familiar, there's very little to learn.  But if a story takes place in an area that's several thousand miles away, it's smart to do as much research as possible, discovering everything from landscape, population, activities, transportation, and even the weather.

A short list of my research topics includes:
  • Rodeo and everything related, including real rodeo locations and dates, types of equipment used and for what events, etc.
  • Driving time from one place to another throughout the U.S.
  • Casinos and casino security
  • CASA volunteers and child advocacy
  • Cherokee names and traditions, and history of reservations
  • ACL (knee) surgery, physical therapy types and uses
  • Qualifications for joining the military, Marine Corps Special Ops
  • Cruise dates and places
  • Education length and specifics for a law degree, medical degree, etc.
Why do we spend so much time on research?  Readers of contemporary novels expect accuracy, and some will quickly point out when something isn't right.  Some research is as simple as asking a friend about their own experience, or as complicated as searching for photos of an area or place during a specific season for accurate descriptions.  Some research is broad (career), while other research may be for the answer to a single, simple answer (brands of motorcycles).  The more I research, the more comfortable I become with the topic, but when all is said and done, only about 5% is used in the storytelling.

We live in a wonder period of time when researching is much easier than it was in the past.  With a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse, we can learn almost everything about anything.  Computers have made researching easier, but it all comes down to knowing how to look for what you need.  If you aren't proficient at using search engines, work on it.  Knowing what words or phrases to use will help make your researching go more smoothly.

The only problem I find with doing research is the ability to STOP!  It can definitely become addictive. Research all you want and even more than you need.  You'll have fun and learn at the same time!


Reese Mobley said...

As much as I use the internet for research, I still like to have a book to read, highlight and decorate with sticky notes. I guess I'm just old fashioned. Or weird. Or both. (grin)

Joan Vincent said...

Good points Rox. I agree that the internet has made research sooooo much easier. I've gotten information from people in England by clicking on "Contact" on a variety of web sites. I love the web but like a combination of web and book based research.

Starla Kaye said...

I love the Internet for research. The only time I've been in an actual library in years is to attend a writers' group meeting. Once upon a time I felt like I lived in a library.