Okay, I admit it. When I first began writing, research wasn’t my favorite thing to do. That seems strange because I do enjoy learning—even trivial things. But when it came to writing, I just wanted to delve into a story.
But writing a novel, novella, or even a short story without checking the facts can be disastrous. Readers are savvy, and they can be quick to pick up on the tiniest mistake. (As a reader, I’ve done the same thing.) Therefore, research is necessary.
I recently wrote a short story for a time-travel anthology and probably spent more time researching facts for this 5,000-word piece than I did for two full-length novels. I had to check facts about aircraft carriers, Navy fighter jets, and information about military bases.
Because the story takes the main character back to 1943, I needed to make sure I had all my facts straight for that period. For instance, I mention the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. We know today the vessel was named for our thirty-third president, but in May of 1943, Harry Truman hadn’t yet become a vice-president. He was still a senator. Referring to him as President Truman, or even Vice-President Truman in 1943 would have been a big mistake.
Fellow author Mae Clair’s Point Pleasant series takes place in the early 1980s. People under the age of thirty will disagree with me, but I tend to think of the 1980s as more modern times (at least in relation to the 1940s.) And in some ways, I think setting a story during this time is a bit challenging and requires a lot of research.
Consider this. IBM introduced the first personal computer in 1981 (Apple was already making desktop computers in the mid-1970s), but most houses didn’t have computers until much later. Internet and the World Wide Web didn’t become popular with households until the 1990s.
Believe it or not, Motorola produced a handheld phone in 1973, but most people didn’t begin using cellular devices until the 1990s. (Smartphones came even later.) In the early 1980s, if you wanted to make a call, you would use a land-line device (not cordless). If you were away from home, you went in search of the nearest phone booth.
Technology and world events are a couple of things we should research before writing a story. Settings are another. In my opinion, the best way to research is to visit the area in which you want to set your novel. (Could make for a great vacation!)
If that’s not possible, get on your desktop or laptop PC, connect to the web, and search away. Text a friend or use your smartphone to call someone who might now.
We are fortunate that we have such a wide range of resources at our fingertips. Extensive research no longer requires a trip to the local library. Who knows what new and exciting things you might learn along the way.