Workshop 8: Research: Ins and Outs of Making a Book Come to Life
Cara Putman (right) and Tricia Goyer are obviously good friends—a friendship that spilled over into one of the conference’s best tag-team stand-up comic routines. When the laughter died down, though, we had a five-page handout and hastily scribbled notes on how to research absolutely anything. Goyer and Putman shared research examples from the genres in which they publish, but did not limit their methods to only those.
Just the source(s), Ma’am
The presenters (Tricia Goyer, right) discussed making personal site visits for vibrant details, the shortcomings of relying on Wikipedia, delights and dangers of Google Earth, and software they could recommend to organize all the research. A list of library resources included:
- Newspapers Direct (650 newspapers in 76 countries)
- History Resource Center for documents from pre-Colonial times to the present
- Greenwood Daily Life Online
- Associations Unlimited
- Proquest magazines and newspaper articles
- Readers Advisory Tools
Of course, various libraries have different resources and reference librarians love to help you research. You may find yourself bonding with them, in fact—which will help you market the book later.
Live and In Person!
Other ways to do research are more hands-on and face-to-face…or at least can be.
Facebook and Twitter can be useful—with caution!—to connect with readers and even provide people to interview and allow them to invest in your project. You can also peruse Flickr.com for other people’s photos.
Writing about crime? Go to trials, into jails, attend FBI Citizen’s Academy and police ride-alongs. Focusing on a particular town or region? Talk with locals in towns of interest.
Remember, too, the value of listening over asking a lot of questions—don’t rush the interview. Allow for silent times, even tears. It’s how you tap into the emotion that will move your reader. And do take pictures of yourself with the people you talk with.
Danger: Information Overkill?
No matter how absorbing research is, don’t get carried away. Don’t over-research, don’t chase rabbit trails, and don’t include material in your book just because you found it. You can stop researching when you begin to see the same info several times.
While too much research dumped into a book isn’t good, specific facts add color and authenticity—and prevent a knowledgeable reader from being pulled out of the book by errors.
In short, details matter.