Awesome things we’ve Googled: a walk down research lane

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By Whitney and Julie

Ya wanna know what’s fun? Taking a look back at the various and sundry things we’ve Googled when writing our novels! Word nerds that we are, we each sat down and listed out research items to include in this series, Research Methods for Novelists. 

Thinking back and making lists served as a reminder that:

  • Research helps us deliver a more authentic and believable story to readers, as we explored in our series intro.
  • Research can change the course of an ENTIRE NOVEL. Imagine discovering unexpected info about your topic and deciding you want to write something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than you originally planned!

Below, we each share our list of research items, many of which are good for a chuckle, and reflect on what the research process has brought to the table, in hopes that our journeys inspire yours!

Whitney’s research experience

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This is an incomplete list of items and ideas I researched before and after I began writing my novel.

I did most of my researching about childhood, children, and children’s literature while I was working on my doctorate. My field of study was children’s literature, so it’s not like I had to do anything extra. But this information became very useful once I realized that I wanted to write a middle grade fantasy. I was able to use what I learned about gender, family, culture, and social movements during the nineteenth century to make the real world of my fantasy as realistic as possible. These kids may have special abilities, but they live in OUR mundane world, and this verisimilitude, hopefully, increases the wow factor of the novel’s fantasy aspects.

While the poetry I researched may not appear directly in the book, the philosophies that frame Romantic poetry are also at the heart of my novel. Without all the research I did on poets like Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, my novel’s themes would, I think, ring hollow.

The other things I researched while writing the book were small details that I wanted to be right in order to, again, create a realistic world. Would my late nineteenth-century character have called a belly button a belly button? I didn’t know, but I found out! Would a newt live in Northwest Arkansas? And would one of my characters be able to catch and keep one of them? How so? Searching for the answers to these questions may have stopped me writing in the moment, but it ultimately helped me make a smooth, seamless fictional universe.

Julie’s research experience

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My list of research terms included lots of history, which is crucial to my first novel.

When I first decided to write a novel set in Miami and exploring the Cuban diaspora, I knew I needed to research. I got busy Googling, visiting the library, and interviewing folks … which for a former doctoral candidate seemed pretty much like business as usual. I ended up with hours of recorded first-hand accounts and pages and pages of notes taken from books, documentaries, news archives, and more. It was wonderful.

Now that I’m looking back on my first novel, I realize more than ever that I don’t believe in compartmentalizing writing tasks, as in research first, write later. To me, writing tasks succeed when they’re somewhat intertwined. I love writing new scenes while thumbing through archives … or Googling details to add to a scene I wrote a YEAR prior.

What were the lyrics to “Bailando” that was so popular in Miami the year the novel takes place? How many miles apart are the South Pointe Pier and Surfside?   

Now that I’m in the early phases of writing a second novel, I’ve started the research process all over again. This time, I’m looking into thyroid disease and the medical industry that profits from it. I’ve got a lot of research ahead of me, including interviewing patients, visiting pharmaceutical companies, and scouring medical journals. I’m excited to see how my novel takes shape as a result!

Your turn!

What have you Googled, found in a library, or learned from an interview that comes in handy in your novel? How has research changed your writing? Tell us in the comments!

2 comments

  1. A writer’s search history is sometimes scary… As a high fantasy writer, I don’t have to do a ton of research because it’s really all up to me how things work, but I have spent an unhealthy amount of time on baby naming sites.

    Liked by 1 person

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