12 Days of Planning Your Novel: Research, Research, Research

Three simple ways to start researching your novel so you can start writing.

I hope you enjoyed Day 1 of planning your novel. Now that you've figured out what type of novel you want to write, it’s time to move on to the next stage: research. Even if you're writing a story that takes place in a completely made up world, you'll still have a bit of research to do.

At this point you don't want to get so involved in your research that it takes forever to start on your novel, but it helps to know a few things before you start writing. There are three types of research that I like to do before starting a new project. I like to know as much as possible about the genre I'm writing, I like to read books in that genre, and I want to make sure I have my facts right so I’ll do some fact-based research regarding my specific storyline.

Understand Conventions and Obligatory Scenes

When you write in a specific genre, readers have expectations of that genre. Failing to meet those expectations will result in readers not enjoying your work. Expectations vary depending on the genre, but each story in a genre has things that must happen for the story to work. For example, a murder mystery must have a murder and a romance must have a romance. Of course, I’m simplifying here—there’s much more to it than that.

A Google search for “obligatory scenes” plus your chosen genre will generate enough information to get you started. Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne have some great blog posts on this topic. If you’ve chosen to write a genre that you read a lot, you will likely already know many of the obligatory scenes.

Since I am planning a historical romance while I’m writing this 12 Days of Planning Your Novel series, I’ll be referring to this helpful post about obligatory scenes in a love story while planning my novel.

Before writing a novel, it helps to do some research and prepare yourself for what you need to know while writing.

Read Your Favourite Books

One of my favourite ways to understand the requirements of a certain genre is by reading books in that genre. Good and bad. Reading both good and bad books will help you see why the bad ones don’t work and hopefully help you avoid those mistakes in your own writing.

Ask for other people’s opinions. You might not always agree with them, but it’s a good starting place if you haven’t read many books in a given genre. I don’t remember reading a historical romance before so I paid attention to what friends of mine were reading. I also found one that was set during the second world war because that’s the same time period I want to write about.  

Get the Facts Right

Readers are smart and they're going to know if you don't have your facts straight. This may not matter as much for some genres like fantasy and sci-fi, but for stories that are based on actual places or events that took place in history, making mistakes with the facts can mean losing readers and getting bad reviews.

Now’s a great time to make a note of the types of facts you’ll need to research before you start writing. You can also stop and research during the writing process, so don’t worry too much about missing something.

Research can be conducted online, in your library, or even by visiting a place in person. For my World War II romance, I’m going to be researching places, slang, clothing styles, how relationships were conducted, and how people went about their day-to-day lives. I’ll use Google but I’ve also noted some non-fiction books about WWII I plan to read in preparation.

There you have it. Three simple ways to research before you start writing your novel. I’d love to see in the comments what genre you’ll be working on, or if you’re not planning on writing a novel, what your favourite genre is.