Researching, Writing, and Rabbit Holes Part 1

Author, King's Silver, Lyssa Medana, Out of the London Mist -

Researching, Writing, and Rabbit Holes Part 1

Hi, I’m Lyssa Medana and this is 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.


Writing Fiction - What is Research?

Whether you are a biochemist, pushing the limits on healthcare, or an expert on Ancient Greek literature, research is putting in the hours in the lab and the library, chasing every detail and unearthing every fragment of information. If you are an author and writing fiction, it’s a little hazier. A fiction author can be writing about anything. And that is potentially a lot of research.

Research for fiction isn’t like researching a paper for school or college. There isn’t a teacher at the end telling you where you went right or wrong. You don’t get a grade to know that you pass. Half the time, you’re not even sure about what you should be looking for. What is worse is when you get it right, the reader won’t even notice. If you get it wrong, at the worst case, it will be a meme all over the internet and you will never live it down. It’s not easy.

When I think of research, my first thought is of laboratories and libraries and the internet. I imagine scenes like that of Gandalf in the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, with tomes stacked around him and papers scattered with abandon. It may work like that if you are researching a factual and academic paper on, for example, the history of washing machines. It isn’t quite the same when you are writing fiction.

Let’s take an example. You are writing an idyllic romance. The heroine is strolling along a beach at sunset with a sea breeze in her hair. You need some seriously solid description here to set the scene. This is a critical point in the story. You need to get it right. Where do you start with research? Do you need any at all? Or will the detail you put in be vital to make the scene come to life?

Let’s be honest—you do not need to research the molecular makeup of the sand, average ocean temperatures at that latitude and the percentage of stores that sell ice cream over a ten mile radius. You need to stop and think. When were you last on a beach? How did the sand feel under your feet? What were the sounds? What were the scents on the air? How about the sunsets that you have seen? What did they look like? Which of them fit the story the best? For an author writing fiction, a lot of research is keeping your eyes and ears open and paying attention to the world around you. You can stack up memories like books on a shelf or files in a computer, all stashed away until you need to call on them. You may not even be aware of what you have noticed until you start writing.

Of course, if, like me, you get a little excessive with research, you can do more, especially if the beach is either a real location or based on one. It’s useful to know where the sun is setting, so knowing if the beach faces east (with the setting sun behind the heroine as she stares far into the horizon) or west (with the sun slipping down behind the horizon) is helpful. It helps keep things consistent. If the sun sets into the sea in Chapter One, it really shouldn’t set behind the hills in Chapter Five. Going further, you can find out things like sunset and sunrise times, depending on date and latitude, which again can keep you consistent.

If the heroine first meets the handsome hero at sunset, just before dinner at 5pm, she shouldn’t meet him at sunset at 9pm three days later. Perhaps we can put the glamorous heroine in Whitby, UK. Is the meeting in the heat of summer with our delightful heroine in a floaty maxi dress and soft wrap (July 10th, sunset time at Whitby is 9:34pm)? Or perhaps the nights are drawing in and our darling heroine is snuggly wrapped in a jacket and scarf (November 10th, sunset time at Whitby is 4:09pm).

For a fiction writer, research is complicated. It’s more than just dusty books and hours at the library. It’s keeping your eyes open and being curious about the world. You never know when taking an interest will pay off. Suddenly, you remember the school lesson, the quiz, the documentary or the magazine article and you will have a small detail that helps your story shine. And if it’s remembering that walk on the beach, it’s a great incentive to have fun.

The series continues here:

Lyssa Medana is a 50-something author living in West Yorkshire, UK. Her works include The Forgotten VillageDigging up the PastCats in the BibleDinner 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: The first of the Magic Awakening, King's Silver, is available on Kindle Unlimited

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