The Excitement (and Commitment) of Novel Research

Michelle Ule

Blogger: Michelle Ule, substituting for Rachelle Gardner who is on the road today

(Note: Some readers will think all the Books & Such Agents are fanning out across America to clean house as per the April 1 post. Joke! The rest of us are working.)

I’ve just finished writing a complex historical novel that required an immense amount of research.

It took 15 months to complete and involved marquee characters, historical figures, events in Paris, London and Cairo; ship sailings, travel negotiations, costumes and a war.

It was exciting. I learned a great deal. (My husband is tired of the subject).

Researching and writing an historical novel takes a great deal of personal commitment. Here are 10 things I did to get the research I needed done.

1. I wrote the synopsis of the story first.

research

Only some of the books I read!

Because of the complexity of my subject, I needed to understand WHAT I needed to learn before I began.

Having the synopsis provided me with a framework for what I was going to have to research and made me be creative as to HOW to research.

2. I read like a fiend, everything remotely connected to my novel’s subjects.

I started at my local library’s catalog. I read through Amazon’s suggestions on the subjects. I examined  lists of book suggestions on Goodreads.

I’m not sure how many books I read or checked out of the library. I had to follow timelines and so I read biographies and memoirs as well as simple subjects.

25,000 books have been written on just one facet of my story in the last 100 years. (I did NOT read them all!)

I read fiction as well as biographies, memoirs, history books and several medical studies.

3. I wore out my welcome on Google (joke)

Because this was not a subject area I specialized in, I googled like mad.

I estimate for nearly every one of the 407 pages of my novel, I must have googled at least four or five items.

I had to have the facts right.

4. I joined Internet groups related to my subjects.

I get posts from several Facebook groups daily. One group sends at least two photos and an article every single day.

I’ve read them all.

5. I set up a folder in my email for everything I read.

For everything I read online remotely connected to my story, I emailed the link to myself and put it in the folder I just called “Egypt.” It has 150 emails in it right now.

Since I did a lot of browsing while on my ipad, I just sent those links over. Some I used, some I did not.

6. I set up Pinterest Boards

I’d not done anything with Pinterest before, but when I started hunting for fashion ideas, I realized photos for my other subjects also could be found there.

I’ve got over 2000 repins now and six boards on my subjects. They helped me keep track of what things looked like that I needed to know.

7. I watched movies.

The BBC did a 27-part series on my subject (haven’t watched it all, yet!) My marquee character’s daughter did a five-part series of interviews about him.

I watched every movie in our public library remotely connected to all the subjects. (See why my husband tired of the subject? Fortunately, he loves Lawrence of Arabia.)

8. I traveled.

I’ve traveled five times to London and thrice to Paris, so I wasn’t worried about understanding that setting. Note: Some of these trips occurred outside the range of when I researched the story, but during my research, the aforementioned long-suffering husband had a business trip to England, so I went along and added Paris.  (It was a business expense, honest! See my blog posts!).

Cairo, however, is off limits for an American tourist now; so I had to learn about it through movies, books and photos. I even ate Egyptian food!

9. I discussed my subject constantly.

I picked up a lot of information from people who didn’t even realize what they knew. Many had family stories.

I met a stranger in Glasgow–carrying a book at a train station as per our agreement–to discuss a marquee character.

We dug up more family history, and I pumped my cousin for information.

My military officer husband continually explained what was happening militarily during the time of my novel.

10. I wrote up timelines

My story was complex, and I needed to follow so much information–and had to ensure the marquee character and other historical figures were where they were supposed to be–I drew up a timeline.

I’m feeling pretty good about what I know now. (Indeed, I’ve become an authority, apparently, according to Google on one of the subjects owing to my blog post and Pinterest page.) I’m hoping the depth of that research will be recognized by those who read my novel.

If not?

I’m well-versed on the subject, understand a lot more about Europe and life than I did before, and I’m done.

Thanks be to God!

What sort of unusual research have you done and how? Click to Tweet

The excitement and commitment of historical research. Click to Tweet

Wearing out my welcome on Google. Click to Tweet

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