How to Use Research in Your Fiction Writing


What does it take to become a homicide detective? How much money does a fashion photographer make? Why do geologists map rock formations?

These are the types of questions you’ll need to answer for the careers you pick for your own characters. You can’t have your student pilot transporting his friends cross-country carefree without his recreational or private pilot’s certificate. The FAA doesn’t allow that for a student pilot and that’s an easy enough fact to find.

Choosing the wrong wardrobe for your 1800s antagonist can kill your setting. But clothes are important for any genre.

Many writers use a description of someone’s clothing to help describe a character. You can say a lot about a character wearing parachute pants, a rattail and an off the shoulder neon yellow T-shirt. You’ve got an 80s fashion image in your head and this works if you’re writing about that decade or looking to present a character as someone who’s trapped in the past…and is a fashion victim to boot!

Do you know how Southerners talk? Your book about a small town in Tennessee will probably need characters who use Southern dialogue to make it more believable.

Dialect can be a challenge to write but it helps if you know what exactly you’re dealing with before you start writing. A Southern character may drop her G’s from words like talking, cussing and writing. Don’t get caught up in making every piece of dialogue sounding like it came out of the movie Deliverance.

You want your research to show you can write dialect, not muddy your fiction and distract your readers with making everything sound like a hillbilly droning on and on. You can make your character sound like she’s from the country by choosing your words carefully.

Same goes for all of your characters. A British character, for instance, might say “Bloody Nora!” to show surprise or anger. An Australian mother will call her baby’s diapers “nappies.”

Know the language your character would speak if he was standing right in front of you before he opens his mouth to readers. If you’re not sure what swear words an Irish man would say in a fight defending his daughter’s honor, do your research into the dialect because writing the scene will become so much easier when you know what we would hear if were sitting there in the room watching these men fight.

As you think about what you’re writing, you’ll undoubtedly uncover other areas you need to spend time researching. Just look at resarch as a way to build content for your novel instead of thinking of it like a chore you have to do.

While the word “research” may have those images of a boring night spent in the library when you were in school, research for your fiction can actually be a fun process. Once you get started, you may even have to tell yourself to stop researching and start writing because you have so much great information you can use in your work!