Research is fun and will add texture and depth to your books. It can also one of the most frustrating aspects of writing. With the advent of the Internet the amount of information is overwhelming. No matter what topic you put in, jillions of websites pop up all eager to give you information. The problem is which ones are reliable and which ones are just someone’s ramblings? And are the best sites on the top? Or are they just the ones someone’s brother clicks on every half hour so they look as if they get a lot of traffic? It’s so hard to tell.
Here are some alternatives to the WWW.
People—get your information locally. There’re tons of local organizations and experts who know about everything from agriculture to zoologists. Remember someone you know probably knows someone who has the information you need.
I’ve found that if you tell people you’re a writer and are trying to get the right information for your WIP, they’re eager to help.
Forge friendships with people in different walks of life. Since I’ve been writing, I’ve made friends with private detectives, gardeners, interior designers, police, lawyers, doctors, and on goes the list. They’re all helpful, fun, and have a unique outlook on topics.
Here are a few things to take into account when you meet with or contact someone.
Be courteous. Their time is valuable.
Be prepared. Have your questions ready and written down. The more prepared you are, the more professional you’ll look and the more information you’ll get.
Ask open-ended questions. People love to tell stories.
When your book gets published (always be optimistic), acknowledge your sources. Even go so far as to mail your source a book with a thank-you note. The next time you need information, they’ll be eager to help.
Printed material—Magazines are great. No matter what you write, someone probably has come up with a magazine for it.
I’m a book junkie. In my office, I have one whole wall—minus the window—in bookshelves. If you’re writing about a different time period try going to a used book store or an antique shop. The antique shop may not have a lot, but they may know someone who does. Which could lead you to a source. See people above.
Pamphlets are another great resource. Even if you aren’t going to travel, brochures to different places are great for descriptions. Don’t limit yourself to travel flyers. Collect all kinds because you never know when the subject matter will spur an idea or fill in a gap in your story and lead you to a source. And if you’re in need of a flyer for yourself you’ve got a wealth of ideas to draw from.
Classes—Yes go back to school. Try some Community Education classes. They’re inexpensive and you can make contacts for future reference. It’s a great way to get a taste of a subject.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a college or university, they sometimes have mini-courses that aren’t expensive. Our local university’s culinary school used to have cooking classes. I loved them. I found out all kinds of things from the five great sauces to how to care for knives. They weren’t well attended and are no longer around. So get out and support your local resources. Who knows? You may find a new passion.
The Internet—If you must. The problem with websites is they can be very helpful or completely inaccurate. Be aware when you surf the information out there.
How do you approach research?