Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Research and the Novice Writer

Today's guest post comes to us from Cyndy E. Lively

As a novice fiction writer honing her craft, reading the acknowledgments authors include at the end of their novels is both fascinating, and informative. We’re told that they’re one way to identify agents representing the type of fiction we’re hoping to publish. Acknowledgments are also a wonderful window into the methods authors use to research material for their work. Unfortunately, they can be more than a little intimidating. It quickly becomes apparent that if you’re a world renowned author, there’s no shortage of professionals willing to share their time and expertise. In one of the first acknowledgements I remember reading, the author thanked his research team for all their hard work. Travel to far-flung locales in search of a unique setting appears commonplace.

While I might one day aspire to employ a team of people working on my behalf–for the foreseeable future–I will be dredging up any useful facts I require on my own. There’s no travel budget to allow for a month spent soaking up the ambiance of the Scottish Highlands. Those willing to answer my questions will have to be satisfied with a pastry and latte in lieu of seeing their names in the pages of a New York Times bestseller.

In spite of these handicaps, research for the novice writer is far easier than at any time in the past. We literally have the world at our fingertips, and much of what we are looking for can be had for free. Google Maps can’t completely substitute for firsthand knowledge of a location, but you can view places that would otherwise be out of reach. Post a question on the web, and someone out there will attempt an answer. If you maintain a healthy skepticism, and confirm with multiple sources, you’ll likely find what you need.

The Chief of Police of a major city, a cutting edge scientist, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company probably won’t agree to an interview, but we all have friends and neighbors who in turn have their own network of acquaintances. Mining these connections can lead to people willing to share their knowledge if you ask nicely and have a brief, focused agenda.

Search any topic and Amazon has a range of titles offered for purchase. Professional organizations have newsletters, often available for a nominal fee. If your character would receive such a publication, so should you. Journals can be pricey, but libraries may provide access for free.

Stuck visualizing a character’s home? Pictures and floor plans for every conceivable type of dwelling are available online. Your character doesn’t have to be limited to a ride within your budget; automobile manufacturers post detailed photographs of their cars. Same for clothes: not every character is happy in jeans and a tee shirt.

The problem with research is often finding too much information, rather than too little. Winnowing the vast array of available data down to a manageable level takes time. There’s an art to including just the right amount of factual knowledge to imbue our stories with verisimilitude, without crossing the line into pedantry. And, if you’re like me, the allure of the search often serves to postpone the moment when I’m faced once again with a blank screen waiting to be filled.

CYNDY E. LIVELY is a retired physician living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While she has been pursuing her dream of becoming a published novelist, her short fiction has appeared in Jupiter magazine, Leading Edge, and two short story anthologies, including Mystery Times Ten 2013, publsihed by Buddhapuss Ink LLC. You can find her on Facebook at Cyndy Lively or contact her at

We hope you enjoyed today's guest post from one of our Buddhapuss Ink authors. This was the first in a new, regular series of guest posts that we will be featuring. All of them will be written by our authors, and their topics will range from: Writing Tips to Short Stories, Poetry to Flash Fiction. If you enjoyed today's entry, please leave a comment, and share this link on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

You'll want to bookmark us so you don't miss the next in the series on April 2nd when poet and novelist, Martie Odell Ingebretsen, author of Sweet William, is our scribe for the day on this Cat's blog!  

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