Location, Location, Location Part 3
Hi, I’m Lyssa Medana and this is number three in a series of articles with my thoughts on research and the fiction author. I hope that you can use them as a starting point for your own writing journey.
How to Research When Writing Fiction
As I’ve said in other posts, research isn’t necessarily all libraries and locations. These days, the internet gives us so much information, so there are a lot of ways to find out about the setting for your novel. It should take a small fraction of your writing time to cover the basics, avoid glaring errors, and add wonderful tone and texture to the background of your story.
There are a lot of different ways that you can go about research. As I am disorganised, obsessive, and easily distracted, I am not the best person to tell you precise steps. What I can do, however, is show you some of the steps that I would use. Let’s use the example from the previous posts: a cosy romance set in Whitby, UK, with a beach-walking heroine and a strong-jawed hero.
I’ll set the parameters first. I haven’t been to Whitby for 10 years, and for various dull reasons, I didn’t get much time to look around. I’m not going to be able to visit the location in the short term. In order to research the book I’m writing about Whitby, I’m going to have to rely on the internet and my erratic memory. I’ll be putting a lot of the links in a later post about where to research, so I won’t include them here.
I start by having a browse around various sites: Wikipedia, English Heritage, The Whitby Guide, the local tourist boards, the council webpages, local news sites, and historical sites. This can waste a lot of time, but I enjoy it. I may look online for guidebooks to Whitby, Whitby Abbey, and Whitby Museum or for books on the history of Whitby. I get an idea of how this information can support the characters and plot (the important parts of writing).
When I am feeling particularly organised, I set up a folder in my cloud and keep word documents there with pieces of information that may be useful, and links to helpful websites. I also use this to track info on characters and locations. In the past I’ve used notebooks and folders with old-fashioned pen and paper notes. I’m not going to lie, though, I don’t always do this. Instead, I often end up in a mad scramble to try and find where I saw a half-remembered bit of information or detail that would really help the plot. Don’t do this. It’s a lot easier if you take notes as you go along.
When I’ve got an idea of the background, I then narrow my focus. I start by asking myself what time of year would best suit the story. Perhaps there may be ghosts, so I’ll look at some time in late autumn. I’ll use November 10th as the start date of the story for this example. It’s really useful to have that date nailed down. It’s a fixed point to build on. If you know the date, then you can check things like sunset and sunrise times if you need them for the story. There are a few sites online that give sunset and sunrise times for date and location.
Just a reminder–sunset on November 10th is going to be at different times in Whitby, UK (4.09pm), Houston, TX (5.28pm) or Melbourne, Australia (8.04pm). I live close enough to Whitby to know the weather that’s normal for the time of year so I don’t need to look that up, but there are places for that as well. If the plot absolutely demands, I can check tide tables with the local coastguard, or even get a paper set from an internet store. If the ghost of a departed lover came to visit our lovely heroine every day when the tide came in, then it’s probably best to get an idea for the rhythm of those tides, as they vary day to day.
The next thing to work out is where the main characters live. It’s no use putting a billionaire in a shabby campervan, or someone who is broke in a mansion (depending on the plot, of course). Where they live has to support the story and the characters. I use Google maps to look for Whitby and zoom out to get an overview. I like the idea of the heroine walking on the beach every day, so I’ll put her within walking distance of the sea front. I can zoom in and get an idea of the street layout and have a general idea of where she is.
I don’t need to know the house number, just a rough idea of which direction she takes when she goes places. I think the hero will live some distance away, perhaps on the moors or woodland. That would work if he were rescuing the heroine from the dreadful influence of her dead lover. If she has money and he doesn’t, I can have a quick scout around the websites of local estate agents (realtors). This will show me where the expensive houses are and where I can find a cheap place to stash my characters. I can even check up on local crime statistics to see if the mugging that allows the hero to rescue the heroine for the first time is more appropriate in one place rather than another.
After that, it’s time to write. Once I’ve had a browse around, I can get a sense of what is right for the setting, and I can always use Google street view for a little local colour. I can also check things like ‘is the local supermarket likely to be open at that time’ or ‘what are the names of the most popular cafes and restaurants’ as I write. The basic research is done, though, and it’s time to have fun writing.
Lyssa Medana is a 50-something author living in West Yorkshire, UK. Her works include The Forgotten Village, Digging up the Past, Cats in the Bible, Dinner at Dark and Tales from the White Hart. Lyssa also regularly publishes poems and short stories on her blog, Always Another Chapter. You can find the first book in her Aether Trails series, Out of the London Mist, here: https://threefuriespress.com/products/out-of-the-london-mist-by-lyssa-medana. The first of the Magic Awakening, King's Silver, is available on Kindle Unlimited https://amzn.to/3MkEHVe