How to Use Research in Your Fiction Writing

Research. The word brings on flashbacks from school, trying to get that history paper written on time. Research for fiction is actually more fun!

While a lot of people associate research with the work of a nonfiction writer or for the fiction writer writing in the historical genre, research is just as important in any genre you’re writing.

Beginning your research can feel overwhelming. Start with these basics:

Character Names
Does the character’s name fit in with your story? If you’re writing the story of an Amish teen struggling with her strong Amish roots vs. the call of life outside Amish country, don’t name her Camyrn. It doesn’t fit with what Amish parents would name their child.

Sarah is a common Amish name for girls and would fit much better to make your character believable. This is something you can easily find through a little bit of research.

There are plenty of Web sites for baby names. You can also look up the origin of the name to make sure it works with the type of piece you’re writing.

City
Is the location crucial to the story you’re trying to tell? Would your characters and readers be better served if the story is told in a fictional town?

Let’s say you’re writing a story about a dirty cop in New York City who wants to come clean and start over. He’s met the girl of his dreams, she’s pregnant and living the life of a scheming cop just isn’t what he wants anymore.

If you’re going to go inside the force and use the city as a backdrop in your fiction, you better have a pretty good grasp of New York and its police department. This is where writers have the luxury of using the Internet for their research. Don’t rule out the “old-fashioned” method of conducting interviews with real police personnel to make your story even more believable.

Researching a city doesn’t just mean knowing that one street intersects with another and that’s where two characters will meet. You may need a central location, a building that has certain hours and rules, the price of a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

If you run into problems researching any city and feel stumped, you can always visit that city’s tourism department. Many are willing to answer your specific questions if you’ve never visited yourself or don’t have knowledge of a certain area. This is especially helpful if you’re writing a novel that takes your character to Rome, Italy, and you’ve never been.

Research everything you want to include for that city. Down to the nitty gritty details.

For example, a bestselling author actually made the mistake of sending the protagonist and his family to Bermuda where they rented a van to travel around the island. Rental cars aren’t available in Bermuda, though. Since the plot line relied heavily on the family touring the island in the van, this weakened the entire story.

Wanting to use a fictional city instead? Think of the locations where certain scenes take place. Draw a map of your fictional city as part of your research. You can pin this map up in your writing space to help you visualize this place outside of your imagination.