How I Write: Do I need to read a 1,000 word text book or not?(Stages of research)

Idea Creation, plotting,  (Click on the banner for other blogs!)

Welcome to our blog series: How I Write! Feel free to join in the fun.

Okay, so I guess I gotta figure out how I research. Here goes nothing. I wrote a time travel to an ancient civilization. It required a lot of reading. But since I loved learning, it wasn’t a chore.

 Stage One  (I’m not writing historical but one of my characters is a history buff or he’s into magic tricks or she’s into skateboarding.)

  •  Google the topic. Unofficial websites aren’t for bibliographies but it’s a way to get your feet wet.
  •  Read children’s nonfiction – again, not for a bibliography, but it will give you an idea of what is covered for different age groups.
  • Read historical fiction on the topic.

Just these three simple steps might be enough to spark your plot and add depth to your characters.

Stage Two (I’m writing a time travel or a historical fantasy)

  •  Go to and type in your subject matter. Once you click on a book, you’ll find other books on the topic. Read the reviews. Pick out several current ones and order through interlibrary loan (if your library doesn’t have it).
  •  While waiting for your books go through the steps of Stage One.
  •  If you think a book on loan will be extremely helpful – order your own copy. (Seriously, the 1,000 page college text book was an incredible resource.)
  •  Look in the bibliography of a non-fiction adult book for further resources.
  •  As I read, I wrote down fun facts and snippets of description on index cards (along with the page number and resource) and filed them away in a box under headings: people, clothing, food, war, religion, economy…etc.
  •  At some point, you’ll feel like you have a good enough grasp on your research that you are ready to start writing or plotting (depending on how your write). After your first draft you’ll see where you need more specific research.

 Stage Three (I’m writing about an ancient civilization and need primary resources! Help!)

  •  Look at the bibliography in the back of those big nonfiction books.
  •  Go to college libraries and ask the reference librarian for help.
  • Often times, during your research, you’ll read about a primary source. For the ancient Maya it was a book written and translated by a Spanish priest during the Inquisition. Incredible! That’s all I can say.
  •  Another primary source is a book on the art of that time period. One book I read had pictures of Maya art and the author interpreted their dress. Primary source.
  •  Often these humongo books are written by college professors who are still alive and kicking. Google them and you might find an email or number to set up an informal interview.

Of course, the best research is to visit the country, state, town or time period. So when I’m not writing or researching, I’m working on a time travel machine in my basement made out of popsicles, paperclips, root beer and Mentos.

Your turn. You tell me. What topics have you researched in the name of writing? Any tips? Look in the comments for a book I read that used history in a unique way but wasn’t historical fiction.


25 Responses to How I Write: Do I need to read a 1,000 word text book or not?(Stages of research)

  1. Laura June 29, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

    Hi there! The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne used history in a unique way. The parents were Shakespeare/Renaissance buffs. They dressed and spoke in the time period and constantly embarrased their daughter. Great conflict! I loved it.

  2. Ansha Kotyk June 30, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    I know you were worried about the length of this post but it’s wonderful!!!
    Unlike my post you actually gave very useful information. Like creating the index cards and referencing where you found it. Just like the term papers I did in college… only for fiction. Perfect!
    Excellent post!

  3. Laura June 30, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks Ansha! I’m off to read yours!

  4. Jonathon Arntson June 30, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Laura, awesome addition to a great series.

    This will be muy helpful to the likes of me.

  5. Jennifer Shirk June 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Wow! So much research goes into writing historical books! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  6. Laura June 30, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

    Jonathon and Jennifer – It was a lot of research. But I loved learning about an ancient peoples that I knew nothing about!

  7. Andrea Vlahakis June 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Great post! I love reading the bibliographies of research books I’m using, to find more research books. 🙂 Helps me dig deeper.

  8. PJ Hoover June 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    It sounds like you’re doing all the right research. I’ve done time travel but it’s been to a fantasy past which makes it easier. Oh, and the Trojan War, but since that’s mythology also, I have lots of free rein.
    I admire all the work you’re doing!

  9. anne gallagher June 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    When I did my research for southern slave owners I went to the library in the middle grade section and found what I wanted in easy, readable language. I didn’t want to get boggged down so the kid’s books were easier to grasp concepts. Of course when I needed more substance I picked up adult books.

    Research is hard but worth it in my opinion. Besides, it’s fun to learn something new.

  10. Laura June 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    Andrea – Yes bibliographies are a great resource!

    P.J. – I read Emerald Tablet. Nice! Even if you didn’t complete research, you must have spend time creating your world – and to me, that’s the same thing!

    Anne – Yes! Kids nonfiction is easy to read and not bogged down with details.

  11. kris June 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    For your next WIP, you have to write a story about a kid building a time machine made of popsicle sticks and mentos. ROTFL.

    I love the index cards — I use the footnote feature in MSWord for my nonfiction, but the note card filing system is a great idea.

    Also — try — great way to research appropriate resources for any topic.

  12. Tina Lee June 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Hey, I love how you always approach things with steps. I am terribly disorganized and have the grass is greener thing going on over here. Really it makes such a nice how to post. After I read them I always want to get to work and that is the best kind of writing about writing!

  13. Patti Nielson June 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    Great post on research. That part of writing always bogs me down a bit because I don’t know where to begin, so this is a great how to.

  14. Robert Guthrie June 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    The staff at quality independent bookstores are amazing resources for research.

  15. Laura June 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Kris – the notecards make me feel like I’m in college, but when I’m writing the draft and I need to reread, I hate searching through a big book for the one part. The notecards help me find it easily. That’s why I do it. I learned the hard way.

    Thanks Tina and Patti!

  16. Laura June 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Thanks Robert – good advice!

  17. Kay June 30, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    I love it. You break down an intimidating process and make it seem easy. I want to take a spin on that time machine once it’s working!

  18. Creepy Query Girl June 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    I had a load of fun researching spiritualism for my first book along with the historical places and people that it featured. Lake Pleasant Spiritualist camp was especially fun. I feel like I’ve been there, even though I haven’t:)

  19. Margo Berendsen June 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Great info (I will very shortly begin research for a historical sort of fantasy with ancient Huns). Only problem with this post is it was just tempting enough, with mentions of the ancient Maya, that now I want to know more about your story! Btw, I write MG too.

  20. Laura June 30, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    Kay – I plan to make my millions on the time machine so I can spend my time writing. 🙂

    Creepy – I love it when research makes you feel like you’ve been there!

    Margo – Good luck on researching the Huns! Sounds like fun.

  21. Anna June 30, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    Interesting breakdown! I usually enjoy research, but the new project I’m working on requires that I do some research on genetics (a topic I totally failed in high school). I might have to find someone who understands the topic to dumb it down for me. 🙂

  22. Tatiana Caldwell June 30, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    Excellent post, and great breakdown of different stages/types of research.

  23. Laura July 1, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    Anna – Good luck with the genetics. I’d be a tiny bit scared too.

    Thanks Tatiana!

  24. Kristin Gray July 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    Laura, I’ve researched ancient civilizations, too. I started the book, but then I a new, sparkly idea (without as much research!) took over. Sometimes when I think back on it, I might have been more in love with the research than the actual story? It had some big plot holes I didn’t see how I could fill.

    I ordered archeology books etc. online. I’m such a sucker for that stuff…

    Good luck and thanks for the post! Very informative.


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