I’ve recently returned to the life of a History major and the hours of research it involves. While this research is taxing, it usually yields an interesting product—in my case, a research paper.
Research is important for many career paths, including that of a writer. If you are a fellow student or you still remember the weariness of hours spent in a library, you might groan at the idea of further research. But research comes along with the job description.
In order to improve your story and writing skills as a whole, I recommend two forms of research: research into the background of your story and research into the writing and publishing process.
Regardless of the setting, time period, or reality of your story, you should spend time researching in order to accurately depict a world you wish to convey.
This might seem more obvious to those of you writing non-fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, or any story featuring a contemporary or historical setting. Whether this story takes place in the Mongol Empire of the 13th century or Missouri in 2015, it requires research in order to be accurate and believable to readers.
Which historical events took place in your location? How did people dress during this time? How were women treated? Which form of government held sway in society? Which foods did people commonly eat? How were classes or social groups separated?
These are only a few questions that might play a role in your research. If you intend to write a story depicting the life of a teenage girl living in France during the period of World War II, you might look into each and every one of these questions before typing a single word. Your writing journey will inevitably lead to question after question—in which case you will do research to find answer after answer.
Perhaps less obvious is the research required for fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative fiction. If you have an imaginary race living in a spectacular world with no base in our own human history, why do research? What could you possibly research?
Regardless of how fictional your world is, research will ground your story in a way that makes it believable to a reader.
How have social classes interacted with each other throughout history and how might that inspire your story? How does the technology of your world function? How does agriculture and industrialization influence society? When were toilets invented? If Earth had two moons, what would change?
Again, these questions only serve as examples to show how research can improve a work of any genre. Overall, you should learn to ask questions and seek out answers. Creativity and imagination are crucial ingredients to a story—but research serves an equally important purpose.
2.The Writing and Publishing Process
If you want to improve your writing or prepare yourself for the publishing world, you need to research common skills, tactics, and requirements. There are many resources available on these topics, including free online sources if you’re short on cash. For now, I’ll offer up a few quality sources of information:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King I read King’s memoir for a High School English class, and I highly recommend it. King offers details of his own life and journey as a writer along with great pieces of advice for writing and editing, including my personal favorite tip: adverbs pave the road to hell.
The Elements of Active Prose by Tahlia Newland Author Jeanne Hardt recommended this book to me, and I can’t thank her enough. Newland gives incredible and understandable advice about various stages of editing, from editing your overall concept to editing line by line. If you have a finished manuscript and you want to polish it for future queries, you should definitely check this book out. It helped me cut nearly 50% of my manuscript.
Query: Everything You Need to Get Started, Get Noticed, and Get Signed by C.J. Redwine Jeanne similarly recommended this advice book about querying, written by the author of Defiance and The Shadow Queen. If you are anything like me, you might be overwhelmed by the world of querying. Redwine’s advice is short and to the point, so it’s a wonderful resource if you are ready to query agents. It will teach you ways to construct your query and follow agency etiquette.
Writer’s Digest Writer’s Digest is a fantastic website for writers. Almost every time I Google information about writing or publishing, I immediately come across a Writer’s Digest article. This is a free source for advice and further resources. You can learn tips about writing, querying, and pitching agents, or find lists of new agents looking for clients. They also advertise writing conferences, which I highly recommend attending if you have the time and money. Check out their website and subscribe for their magazine.
This is a very short list of the resources out there, but it’s a start. If you know other good resources, let me know! I’m always looking to learn more.
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.