13 Suggestions for When and What to Research for Your Story

image by geralt

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

Research is vital to your story. Here are types of research and perhaps the best time to perform them.

Before the Draft 

To avoid major rewrites, perform these research tasks upfront.

1. A character’s past significant wound and how it affects him currently. A good resource is The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi..

image by kakarot

2. A character’s hobby or profession. Interview a person in the profession to collect stories and ideas for physical and emotional problems, humorous moments, dangers, and day-to-day expectations. 

Or search for day-in-the-life type interviews online. For instance, I found an interview of a caddy that allowed me write what a caddy does on and off the job, how he interacts with his pro, and how he thinks.

3. The setting, if it helps drive the story, could cause limits to the plot, or is considered a “character,” such as a museum, haunted house, or a jungle.

During a Draft

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Usually this research is a pause to go online to understand the meaning of a word, the name of an object, the character’s surroundings, and the like. 

I perform these look-ups because the scene’s plot, dialogue, or characterization depend on the research. I also fear I’ll forget to research the item later. 

4. Name of anything the character might use in his job or profession.

5. Times of sunsets, sunrises, tides, whether the place uses Daylight Saving Time.

6. Name of clothing items, such as a Henley shirt.

7. Popular names for a character’s year of birth to name a character’s contemporaries, family members, children.

image by JamesDeMers

8. How-tos. I’ve watched videos for such activities as how to create pottery on a potter’s wheel, how to save a drowning person, and how to remove a cover and pages from a book.

9. How to spell words that aren’t in my physical or online dictionaries, such as gully washer.

10. Whether something is possible or not. For example, I wanted to know if a border collie could jump to the backseat of a truck. (Yes.)

11. When I can’t think of the right word. This is when I grab my Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.

After the Draft

For me, I don’t leave much research to after the draft. But I can understand a writer who’s on a roll, putting off research he knows will affect only one scene. And the research will have minimum effect on the play between characters. 

12. Character performs a one-time activity, such as changing a tire.

13. When I haven’t decided on a place for a scene that appears only once in the story. For example, I’m not sure what type of restaurant I want my character dining in and will need a few visuals and sounds when I do decide.

What are other types of research you do and when do you perform them? 

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

Interview Questions for Characters’ Professions & Possible By-Products

image by Tumisu

The hero in my next romance is a cattle farmer in Southwestern Virginia. I pass cattle farms often. I see muddy areas where the cows have been brought in from the pasture, the tabs stapled to their ears, the machinery, and the farmhouses. These offer little about what my hero’s workday is like, his worries, and his hopes.

image by jmesquitaau

So, to develop my hero, I will interview a cattle farmer. I hope he’ll give me a tour of his farm too.

It’d like to use my interview for more than developing my character.



By-Products from Interviews

  • Developing interview questions can make my online research easier.
  • I could write an article about cattle farmers for guest blogs and my newsletter to promote my book.
  • From the farm tour, I could use photos on my Facebook author page.
  • Interesting farming tidbits could be fodder for promotional speaking engagements.
  • image by eslfuntaiwan

    I could design a set of multiple-choice questions about cattle farming for a contest.
  • The stories the farmer shares may help in developing a plot twist I would never have thought of.
  • Thinking up the questions alone can spark possible crises, dilemmas, and conflicts for my story.

Example: Interview Questions for a Cattle Farmer and Wife

1. Why did you choose to be a cattle farmer?

2. Is your farm a family farm, and if so, how did that affect your decision to farm?

3. What effect has farming had on your family?

4. How many acres is your farm, and for the area, what size farm do you consider it to be?

5. What time do you get up and how long is your farming workday?

6. You have a second job. Could you live a comfortable life on the farm income alone?

7. What farm jobs take up most of your time?

8. What jobs do you consider most challenging and why?

9. What worries you most about cattle farming?

10. Have you ever considered giving up farming and why?

image by MabelAmber

11. What do you like best about farming and what is your greatest hope for your farm?

12. What help do you have on your farm?

13. Do you breed cows or buy them to fatten up, and what are the tabs in their ears for?


14. How do you sell cows and to which markets?

15. What breed of cattle do you own?

16. What machines do you use to run your farm and what do they do?

17. What special gear do you wear to do farm work?

18. What do you think are the most dangerous activities in farming?

19.What’s the funniest thing that has happened on your cattle farm?

20. What myths about cattle farming could you dispel?

Questions for Farmer’s Wife

21. What do you like best and least about your husband being a cattle farmer?

22. What is your biggest challenge in being a farmer’s wife?

23. What farm jobs do you help with?

Your interviews on professions for your story can provide by-product benefits. Click to tweet.

What by-products have you gleaned from your interviews on professions? What other questions might I ask my cattle farmer?