How to Research for Your Novel: 7 Tips

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Ernest Hemingway said that the writer has to develop an internal radar that detects lies and nonsense. I guess one of the reasons I said that was because readers do have that radar to detect inconsistencies in our writing.

The reader is able to distinguish when the writer is inventing something or when he hesitates and tiptoes around a question that he does not master. We need to know the environment that surrounds our characters, from the botanical species that grow around their house, to the typical food of that Irish town that they are going to visit next summer.

The reader does not need to believe that this story is happening or has happened, but they do need to be certain that it could happen. No matter what you write, the world you create should offer a sense of reality. With that in mind, here are some tips that can help you when researching for your next novel.

Don’t go overboard with the investigation either

Often we focus on investigating certain details, we think that is the most important thing, we focus on them and forget other things. Expert advice: You never know what particular detail will make the reader trust your judgment. It is impossible to know.

Tom Young, ex-military man and author of several military genre novels, says that in a writing class, in one of his stories someone stabbed a diver and wrote about the color of blood, which under water, in light of the spotlights appeared green. The professor told him that those kinds of details are what make the reader think, that the ghost writer has really seen that. Tom replied: I have seen that.

Write about what you know

Personal experience, that fucking way of learning in life, is also the best way to research for your novel. Things you’ve done in your life, like scuba diving, may be research enough.

Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek , piloted a B-17 bomber during World War II, Gene never piloted a spaceship, however, he knew how the military chains of command worked within an aircraft and it showed in the series, in the relationships between the crew members of the Enterprise.

Cheap investigations

Today you don’t need to visit an exotic place to write about it. There are great tools to travel from your office, Google Maps allows you to get to the foot of the street of (almost) any city, town or village in the world. You can also pick up the phone and call someone from that country, it is a method that many reporters use.

Visit virtual museums, develop a special vision for details. Research the fauna, flora, traditions, and the kind of life that people lead there. Seriously, it’s free, why don’t you try it?


On Youtube you can find anything you need. Literally anything, you just have to know very well what you want to search and arm yourself with patience to browse through the thousands of results. Has your character been hurt? Surely on YouTube you will find a guide on how to treat that particular wound.

The truth is out there

Never underestimate the day to day. I always have the phone or some paper handy. You never know where the inspiration for a story, a novel, and an article can come from… News is a source of inspiration, a tweet from a friend, an article on the Internet, a song…

Very recently I was driving, with the windows down and listening to Bad Religion at a high volume, suddenly The Answer began to play, it is a song that I have heard thousands of times in my life, but at that moment something clicked inside my head and inspiration came to me. I am currently working on that story.

You have five senses

You don’t have to see things, you can smell, feel and taste them. Maybe you can’t afford to go to Japan to investigate the small coastal villages of Okinawa, but you can go to a good Japanese restaurant and taste their food; This will allow you to speak properly about the smell of the sea, its flavor, the color of its dishes…

You are a writer, not a historian

Surely throughout your research you will have come across a lot of information, data, data and more data, surely you all find them very interesting, but remember that your readers want to read a story and not an encyclopedia.

I know a lot about anthropology and philosophy (this is what I have studied), if my characters are part of a nomadic tribe fighting for survival in a land without resources, I will surely capture the attention of my readers. But if I stop here and begin to develop everything I know about the customs, characteristics, and different ways of life of nomadism, you will get bored and close the book.

Since I’ve started with one quote, I want to end with another, by Ezra Pound: literature is news that never goes out of style. The writer, like the journalist, is obliged to maintain a certain veracity in everything he writes.

Those of us who write fiction need to maintain a certain sense of reality. Even Mary Shelley spoke of science in Frankenstein , in response to the experiments in galvanism that were being carried out at the time, whereby corpses were revived in university classrooms across Europe.

Now it’s your turn, do you usually do research for your novels? How far do you go in your investigations? Do you prefer to trust your criteria?

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