First-hand research is always best. Sometimes it’s not an option and a writer has to depend on books, Internet searches and second-hand accounts. You’ve got a character zipping off to Mexico City, but you’ve never been there and can’t go do research. So you turn to secondary sources. Luckily, writers can find out lots of information from other places and they can go to chat rooms and ask questions of people who live in Mexico City or other places they need to know about.
Some places never seem to change, making it easy to get by without a lot of searching for info. Like Central Texas. Hot. Little rain. The trees are always green. We only have two seasons: flip flops and shorts … or flip flops and a long-sleeve t-shirt. January or July – it’s all the same.
Wrong. That’s a myth perpetuated by Texans like me.
Today is beautiful. Granted, most days in Central Texas are, but we do have rain. We do occasionally have to wear coats. Some people even wear close-toed shoes – I’m not often one of them. This morning as the sun came up it was cool, not cold. The sky is now a soft blue with white puffy clouds splattered here and there. It’s mid-October. Trees are beginning to lose leaves. Granted, not all the trees, but there are a few trees even here that turn brilliant colors and lose their leaves. Out my kitchen window I can see the roof of a house in the valley, the only house in sight. By winter, I’ll be able to see more of the house, the front of it, the porch, the smoke curling from its chimney. We may not be able to often legitimately use our fireplaces, but we do have a few opportunities without having to turn down the a/c.
Don’t rely on what you think you know about a place. If you can’t find out first-hand, then try to talk to people who live in that setting. And not just one person. Talk to several. One time while working on a book I needed to know if a bus could drive into Central Park and load passengers. I tried to find out through research and couldn’t get an answer. I turned to the Internet and put the question out in a chat room of other authors. Got my answer. Got several answers. Different answers. Sometimes you have to go with the majority or the answer that comes from the most reliable or knowledgeable source. Unless you hire an editor who specializes in getting the details right, your editor may not be fact-checking. So, if you’re not willing to pay someone to do the research, do it yourself. You can’t just shrug your shoulders and flip a coin. If you’re wrong, your readers will catch it.
It’s much better if you catch it before it goes to print. How do you do research? Have you ever read something in a book and felt frustrated because you knew the author got it wrong? What are your favorite resources?
author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its eleventh year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.