13 Suggestions for When and What to Research for Your Story

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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..

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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

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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.

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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

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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/

Story Setting Part 2: Real vs. Fictional

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First off, remember from Part 1 that setting encompasses such elements as place, time, culture, technology, geography, and weather. Thus, you must decide whether any real setting can work for your story.

Of course, fantasy and sci-fi novels need extensive fictional world building.

Advantages of Real and Fictional Story Settings

 

Real Settings

  • It’s all laid out for you; a good map is a great help.
  • Places you know well facilitate writing the setting.
  • Your hometown makes research easy; everything’s a car ride away.
  • You can choose from many ready-made places to enhance the mood of your story. (For a somber mood, perhaps the rainy Northwest)
  • Actual places give readers a sense of authenticity within the fiction.
  • Places familiar to readers readily supply them with clear images at the story’s outset. Readers enjoy being transported to places they know.
  • Real places can help book sales to people who reside there or to visitors who’ve enjoyed the area.

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Fictional Settings

  • Anything goes, as long as it makes sense to the reader.
  • You can still employ a mix of real-setting features but give them fictional names.

 

  • You don’t have to worry about describing actual landmarks, weather, and geography that don’t live up to readers’ expectations or are wrong. 
  • You can develop the setting to fit the needs of your story: a local business, characters’ outdoor interests, and the area’s traditions.

Disadvantages of Real and Fictional Settings

 

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Real Settings

  You may offend readers who know or love the place, especially if you make statements they consider derogatory.

 You must get your facts right about all elements of the setting, such as geography, weather, and time period.

 You may expect readers to know renowned places as well as you do and unconsciously leave out descriptions they need.

 You could lose sales if book reviews say you did a poor job of presenting a country, state, city, or town.

 You may spend much time researching accurate details on a small town to satisfy only a tiny portion of your readers.

Fictional Settings

  • Developing all the elements of setting can be labor intense.
  • You must ensure the setting elements you develop don’t work against other elements in your story. (In an arid spot, you have the criminal bury body parts in lush parks around the town.)

 Combination Settings

 

Both cases require work, either in research or creating the setting. Perhaps employing a combination and using the advantages of both would help with the labor. You could create a fictional setting that is a composite of multiple real places to provide authenticity and the items your story needs. Or you might create a fictional place within a real country or state.

What to consider when deciding between a fictional or real story setting. Click to tweet.

How have you used fiction and reality in developing a book’s setting?

3 Launch Pads from Which You Can Blast Off Creative Ideas

“In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.” —Eric Liddell

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you used the same launch pad, the same source, for your creative ideas? Has the distance your ideas have soared become shorter?

Then it’s time you try a different launch pad or improve the one you’re using. Here are 3 launch pads your creative ideas can blast off from.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launch Pad 1. Your Experiences

This is probably the easiest and most popular launch pad. But in our Financial Peace University class, Dave Ramsey made a poignant point about our experience with money. With credit, debit, and ATM cards, we no longer feel the pain of shelling out money as we do when we count out dollar bills and coins. Instead, the pain comes when a check bounces or we realize we lack rent money.

Possibly, we need to revamp our “experience” launch pad. The experience of attending that class alerted me to how some of life’s improvements have desensitized me. I want to seek new experiences that allow myself to feel all the wonderful emotions God gave me.

My creativity thrives from those experiences in which I feel wonder, surprise, sadness, empathy, pain, awe, joy, my funny bone, etc.

Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launch Pad 2. Your Research

For us who see research as work, we may forfeit some great ideas if we avoid it. I’m often surprised when I’m reading a book or article and an idea pops up for a project. Or while I’m researching the Internet for my novel, I’m delighted when something grabs me and an idea forms for another activity.

I learned how amazing research could be when I attended an American Christian Fiction Writers Conference when Francine Rivers was the keynote speaker.

Earlier on a cruise in the Mediterranean, I happened to be reading Francine Rivers’s A Voice in the Wind. The ship stopped in places the Apostle Paul visited: Rome, Corinth,  Athens, and Ephesus. I was stunned how Rivers brought alive Rome and Ephesus, whose streets we walked.

At the conference, I said to her, “You must’ve had the same tour guide we had in Ephesus, because you captured what he related in your novel.” She answered, “I’ve never been to Ephesus.”

This experience launched my great respect for research and how it can give me ideas for scenes in novels.

Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launch Pad 3. Others’ Experiences. 

This could come in the form of eavesdropping, an email loop, biographies, famous quotes, friends and family.

After I watched the movie, Chariots of Fire, I watched an interview on the DVD about Eric Liddell. He was the 1924 Olympic medalist runner who refused to run heats on Sunday. Elderly people, who’d been youths imprisoned in the same Japanese interment camp as Liddell, related Liddell’s selfless service. His example for youth as a runner and missionary touched me.

This birthed the idea for my hero in the romance I’m working on. My hero also saw the movie when he was young and his dream is to be the Eric Liddell of golf. Giving the youth of today a role model.

If you’re running dry for ideas from your favorite launch pad, try increasing your exposure in another.

Do you have another launch pad for creative ideas? How have you used it?