I’ve always been what I’d call an ‘over-researcher’ if there’s such a term. Back in the days when I wrote articles for health and fitness magazines I’d read up on a subject using literature and the internet, I’d interview a couple of experts in the field and even for a short article I’d have far more information than I ever needed.
So what about when it comes to writing a novel?
With The Friendship Tree I really took the age old advice of ‘write what you know’. I knew the Sydney location well enough to send my characters, Jake and Tamara, into the city. I’d worked with a PR team, Brewer Creek was a fictitious town and I had enough knowledge to place it in the right area. To make Jake’s job as the local veterinarian realistic I chatted to Write Romantic, Rachael Thomas, who owns and runs a dairy farm.
I’m finding that as I write more novels, I need to do more research. My ideas and my characters are taking on dimensions that I’m not familiar with and I owe it to the stories to get all my facts.
So how do I know when I’ve done enough research?
At a certain point I find that the information I’m uncovering is repeating what I’ve already found, what experts in the field have confirmed, and it’s at that point I know I have enough information to go on. Sometimes questions crop up during the writing process and I’ll do a little more research at that stage, but by then it’s minimal.
So what am I researching now?
Well, for book four, which is in the editing stages, I took myself in to see professionals in the field because I knew it would allow me to make my characters jump off the page. This book focuses on a character who owns and runs a chocolaterie and apart from eating chocolate, I know nothing about what they do each day. Luckily, Creighton’s Chocolaterie in Leighton Buzzard invited me in for a couple of hours to watch them work and to ask as many questions as I liked. By the time I got home I knew I had plenty of information to start writing and as I got the words down on the page I knew it wouldn’t have been so easy without seeing the work environment for myself.
Of course, part of my research was to taste a few varieties too and bring home some samples. I couldn’t resist!
I think research for a novel is easy to begin on the internet. There is a plethora of information out there and as long as you’re using reliable sites it’s a good foundation. I think talking / interviewing experts in the field is also really key to good research. For Handle Me with Care I interviewed a specialist who knew so much about testicular cancer. I was able to tell him the situation I’d put Evan, my character in, and ask him if this would happen. I asked him physical symptoms, the emotional trauma patients face. And most of all, it helped keep my story believable, realistic and accurate.
For my novel, What Rosie Found Next, I interviewed a firefighter from Australia and again asked about certain scenarios and technicalities for my characters and situations I’d be putting them in. This was crucial and the firefighter who helped me passed some of my writing around the rest of the team so I could get feedback from more than one source. It helped me make the writing accurate and I was so happy when a few of them said they were desperate to know what was going to happen in the book!
Another way to research is in person. It’s not always possible but I feel it really enhances the way you write if you are able to experience something yourself whether it’s doing a parachute jump (not me!), visiting a foreign country where you want to set your new book, or work shadowing to see how a job is performed and ask questions on the spot.
My first draft of book five is underway now and with it being in a totally different settting, a place I’ve never been to myself, the research is heavy but fun! All I need to do is persuade my husband to let me book a flight over to New York! It’s work-related after all!
Helen J Rolfe.
If you want to find out more about me or my books, please visit my website: http://www.helenjrolfe.com/
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