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

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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 Amazon.com 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.

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