Writing a book often goes hand-in-hand with researching the subjects you’re writing about. If the character is a mechanic, the author needs to know a decent amount about cars and what a mechanic does to fix them. No writing, except for maybe an autobiography, is without its simultaneous research. (Even stories that seem simple.)
Research can seem daunting and terrifying, mostly because there’s so much that someone needs to know. If a character needs to know everything about a subject, it seems like the author needs to know the same amount. But if your story is about a grouchy mechanic putting together an old ’67 Chevy from his childhood, you as the author probably don’t need to know anything about BMWs.
There are lots of different types of resources, especially on something that involves life experience. There are often nonfiction books explaining the mechanics of what you’re researching (for an example, how an autoimmune disease affects the body), as well as memoirs describing people’s personal experience. If you can’t find a memoir, try reaching out online for people who have similar life experiences to the one you’re planning on writing about.
With so many resources and so much knowledge available in today’s modern, technological age, it can be hard to decide what your characters need to know. If they are an expert hacker, do they need to know everything about computers, or just the software? If you know too much about a subject, the story can be hard to get through as a reader, but knowing not enough can make it inaccurate and feel unrealistic. Therefore, it becomes a challenge to find just the right balance of research. You can’t have too wide of a field.
“Everything” is too much to learn, but “just this one part” is too specific and will you’re your character seem too much like a fictional creation. Narrowing down your research can be hard, so here’s some tips:
Decide what your character needs to know. If your character has cancer, they need to have a patient’s understanding of their cancer, not a doctor’s knowledge of every kind of cancer in existence. If your character is a Shakespeare nut, they probably don’t need to know everything about every playwright of Shakespeare’s time. Let your research only involve what the character needs to know – anything else will be overwhelming.
Learn about what you’re writing about. Maybe your character is a dancer, but you don’t know anything about the dance world or even how a dance class works. Talk to someone who does, find books about dancing, and ask dance students. Real-life research can sometimes be better than reading books about something. Even if your character doesn’t have explicit information about the world they exist in, the world still needs to feel accurate and real.
Know just a little bit extra. Even if your main character doesn’t need to know everything about their situation or world, it’s never bad to know a little bit extra. There may be a character, such as a doctor, with a higher level of information, or you may find in editing that you want to add a little extra detail. It’s never bad to know extra, but researching large amounts makes it harder for you to remember what you know.
As long as you know what you need to know to write your next best-seller, you can research it. Online databases, libraries, and people with life experiences are all great resources for you to learn about the thing that will make your story just a touch more realistic. If you follow the simple steps above and find good resources to match them, you might just find that researching your stories can be fun!