A Guest Post By Author Teresa Trent, Houston Writers Guild member
Book research can be an exciting part of the writing craft. The process can be interesting and fun; still, many authors admit that research can also become daunting. Additionally, excess research can be overwhelming, as well as a handy procrastination tool. If book research is taking you away from developing your story, get back on track with a research plan and a few simple rules.
Planning First: What Does Book Research Involve?
Primarily, book research involves time and effort. After producing several books, I discovered that I often spend too much time performing book research. For example, in A Dash of Murder, I spent long hours looking at pictures of haunted tuberculosis hospitals. I watched TV programs on ghost hunting, taking careful note of the paranormal activity equipment used.
Researching Doggone Dead sent me down the strangest paths, yet. Did you know there is a large assortment of YouTube videos featuring exploding port-a-potties? Spoiler Alert! Now you know — the john is going to blow in that story.
It is easy to get caught up learning about things that my heroine gets involved in while solving her cozy mysteries. I have researched hurricanes, arson, beekeeping, calamine lotion, wedding planners, hot air balloon crashes, and German food. Now, my book research is taking me into the world of psychics and the art of children’s book illustrations.
To avoid over-researching and spending too much time retrieving the information, make a book research plan and organize your research so that you can easily find the information when you need it.
How To Organize Your Book Research
Keeping track of your book research can soon become overwhelming. Through experience, trial and error, I have found several ways to stay organized:
1. Make Notes!
Keeping notes on your book research is essential. Begin your research journey by creating a RESEARCH file on your computer. Place documents, pictures, sound and video clips, emails archives, and any other virtual research here. If you have a notebook system such as EvernoteⓇ or OneNoteⓇ you can simply click from your article’s website and paste it to your notebook. You can also use a word document, and fill it up with clippings from the internet. The ScrivenerⓇ writing software offers specific research files and templates.
2. Keep copies of URLs
When you use an internet source, make sure you copy the URL. If you use OneNoteⓇ, dock the program to your desktop by clicking on “View”, then “Dock to Desktop”. You can cut and paste, or select and drag text and pictures. The program will automatically include the URL and any source citations. If you have a large list of URLs, a simple spreadsheet can be used to store the research information. Regardless of the program you are using to write in, always copy the URL. That way you will always know its source, and can find the original site again.
Think of Pinterest as a bulletin board where you pin up articles you are using for research. You can create “Public” or “Private” boards. When you save items privately, only you can see and access them. .. Public boards provide your readers with a visual into your past works, as well as your work in progress. Use a separate private board for each series. You can dump pictures, articles and videos on the boards. Use Pinterest to collect setting and prop pictures, articles on story elements, and even pictures of people that may look like your characters. Pinterest can be a great time saver.
4. Go Beyond Your Computer
Let your book research take you out into the world. In my book, Overdue for Murder, I wrote a scene of a gathering of sci-fi, chick-lit and horror authors. To produce the dialogue, I needed to gather information on these various genre’s. Through the Houston Writers Guild’s local literary functions, I spoke with several genre authors. By simply asking “what do you write?”, these authors gladly offered a treasure trove of information.
You Don’t Have to be an Expert!
Sometimes, you may not be able to find the information you need. I once spent weeks trying to find a substance that would cause someone to eat more cupcakes, without results. What did I do? Mysterious Additive X was born. Nobody said my baked-goods gateway drug had to be real!
Book research can be fun, interesting and essential to telling your story. Without a plan, too much information can bog down your story and take away from plot development. Create a system to organize your book research, and choose information that will flow easily into your story. Good luck with your writing, and I’d avoid that port-a-potty if you possibly can.
Teresa Trent writes cozy mysteries that take place in small and quirky Texas towns. She was born in Tennessee, and is especially fond of Colorado, Illinois and Texas. After the birth of her son with Down Syndrome, Teresa decided to featured a similar character in her Pecan Bayou series. She continues that theme in the Henry Park Series with “Gigi”, a young woman with cerebral palsy. Teresa lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, two of her adult children and a needy dachshund mix named Martin Luther.
Teresa’s latest cozy mystery is Color Me Dead. She is also the author of six books in The Pecan Bayou Mystery Series and has been in the top 100 cozy mysteries on Amazon. You can visit her website, and find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter or follow her blog.