Researching Your Novel

Stories that require detailed research – historical novels, say, or true crime – seem like too much hard work to me. Writing 80,000 words takes a long time. Why would a writer want to spend extra hours delving into a subject that is not readily accessible?

As I discovered with my first novel, research isn’t all about getting the details right on period costumes or reading through court transcripts. It’s also making sure that the restaurant where your protagonist had dinner was still open that year, or that the cricket match your characters watched on television was screened live or on a delayed telecast.

Researching your book length project can be as complicated as interviewing the prosecution team or as simple as checking the TV guide.

Why is research important?

The Book Length Project Group thought that getting your facts right is a pretty good end in itself, but we also discussed what good research means for a reader. Accurate details can help immerse a reader in your story, enabling them to experience the setting, the time period, and the characters in ways that are believable and enriching. It creates depth and can even produce creative triggers within the narrative.

What do I need to research?

Simply, anything that is relevant to the story. Some examples from the group:

  • The origins of a myth
  • The history of a physical setting
  • The “realism” of magic realism.

What do I do with it?

A couple of years ago I heard Donna Mazza talk about her research for her novel Fauna. Fauna is a stunning psychological drama that springboards off the prospect of recreating extinct species. Donna talked enthusiastically about DNA, woolly mammoths and Neanderthals and clearly knew her subject really, really well. She told us that wanted to put all of her new knowledge into the book, but her editor wouldn’t have a bar of it. She had to strip it back to only the information that was relevant to the story. Her personal need to demonstrate that she had done her research was secondary.

The Book Length Project Group agrees. Just because you know it, doesn’t mean you have to show it. In addition to keeping your information relevant to the story, they also suggest

  • considering how much your reader will already know
  • making the information age appropriate if you are writing for children and young adults.

The Book Length Project Group meets on the third Sunday of every month at Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne. We are skipping August this year and our next meeting is in September. All FAWWA members and friends are welcome. If you would like to join us, please go to The Fellowship of Australian Writers WA (

Published by karenwhittleherbert


One thought on “Researching Your Novel

  1. I’m with you on the historical novels/true crime ‘seems like a lot of work’ LOL! Sadly even the 80s is ‘historical’ now, huh?! I feel personally offended haha. Lots of great points here.


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