15 Apr Tips for Researching like a Professional Writer
Do you like to research? Some writers love research and do too much of it. Others hate it and do too little. We’ll post tips over the next four Fridays to help writers of nonfiction, who must research, and writers of fiction, who should research to add authenticity to the setting in a story or to a real life event that’s incorporated into a fictional story. We hope our tips help you research like a professional writer.
Are you serious about researching? Follow these tips from the experts.
When researching for nonfiction, look for lesser known and remarkable facts. Kids love the unusual and the weird.
But work in such facts in as a natural part of the narrative. (Shirley Raye) Here are some lesser known, fun facts I included in my book Tentacles! Tales of the Giant Squid: “Its eyes are the largest of any living creature on earth. These eyes are as big as a human head.” I mention that a squid’s beak looks like a parrot’s beak, but is so strong it “could break a wooden oar in one bite. Snap!”
In doing research for your story, if you learn something that could change the plot of your fictional story or adds a different slant to nonfiction, consider doing just that.
Research often opens up a whole new angle on nonfiction or a new plot twist for fiction. (Jennifer) An editor stated an interest in a story about a racehorse, so I outlined and submitted a story idea about Man O’ War,
Seabiscuit’s grandfather. The editor said that the story had to be more than a chronicle of his outstanding racing career. “What is the story arc?” she asked. From additional research, I learned that once when the flag dropped for the race to begin, Man O’ War faced backwards. This glitch or unfortunate incident provided the arc that I developed the whole story around. In our workbook we teach about using story arcs in nonfiction.
Make sure your information comes from a reliable source and corroborate it with a second reliable source, if it is a very unusual or a questionable bit of data.
The Internet is a great blessing, but check and recheck what you find. And make copies of your source pages to show an editor later, if needed. (Jennifer) In Amazing Armadillos I wrote that an armadillo scrambles up and over a fence to escape from a dog. A copyeditor at Random House challenged whether an armadillo could climb a fence, but I had ready a good source from a County Extension Office in Arkansas that documented the fence-climbing abilities of armadillos.
Don’t research forever.
You’ll never get to writing, and you can’t include everything anyway. You’ll bore young readers if you dump too much on them. To help yourself understand what will add to your story but not be too much, imagine that you’re a young reader. What do you have to know to make sense of the plot or characters’ actions? What facts or details add just a touch of authenticity? What makes the story interesting enough to keep reading?
Using research is another part of the craft of writing that must be honed. When you’ve finished your manuscript, the factual information should be a seamless part of the overall story. It’s okay if readers don’t’ even remember specific facts as long as they liked and finished your book. That means what you used from research became an integral part of a whole story that captured and held their attention.