Research and Writing, an Inevitable Combination

Dead leaves crunched under foot and weeds crowded the path that was the only access to the abandoned cemetery.  Detailed directions from the curator of the small rural museum included the warning that it would be easy to miss the trailhead. But we didn’t, and eventually found what until that moment I hadn’t known existed — the grave marker of my great grandfather.

Only those of you who appreciate the complexity of genealogy will understand the thrill of that discovery. It’s amazing what research can uncover.

I’m impressed at how much research many writers undertake in order to ensure authenticity in their novels. I recently read a series of blog posts by Carla Gade who, in preparation for the writing of a colonial novella, attended a historical society’s presentation on “Dressing a Colonial Lady.”  There is far more to a colonial lady’s wardrobe than I ever imagined!

There can be hours spent online and in libraries gathering details for historical novels. And there is the travelling — sometimes extensive trips such as the ones to Britain taken by authors Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte.

Not every writer goes to that length, of course, and some “write what they know” and don’t do research at all.

What about you? If it’s required, how do you handle the research in preparation for your writing?


Research and Writing – Part 2, coming on Friday.

16 thoughts on “Research and Writing, an Inevitable Combination

  1. Judith Robl says:

    Having more time than money, I do a lot of it on line and in local or regional libraries. Our books – not the electronic ones, but the real paper and ink old ones with line drawings and engravings – are a wealth of information.

  2. Katt says:

    Carol, I love research. In my “other” life I was a Paralegal—-which meant digging through lots of books or whatever—-to find information I needed. Today, it’s much easier with Google or Yahoo, or any of the other amazing tools we have at our fingertips.
    Your photos reminded me of a trip I took with my 93 year old Father a year or so ago. He wanted to see if we could find his great-grandfathers grave site. Of course his little legs couldn’t stand hiking the trails we needed to “blaze”, so I did and came back to report whether or not he needed to follow me. Unfortunately we never did find the grave marker he was looking for. It was so disappointing for him, and me too.

  3. I enjoy research as much as writing. It’s hard for me to say, “I’ve learned enough, now it’s time to write about it.” For my current novel the research consisted of interviewing my 90-year-old mother about life in the 1930s, and reading memoirs with other first-hand accounts. It has been fascinating.

  4. elderfox says:

    I so agree with each of your commentors…I LOVE research, too much so :/ and I especially get excited re the history of our United States AND Canada.
    For my current novel, (Yep, you read that right) my wealthy hero has given up “present day” for “pioneer” life and not only saves but falls in love with a modern woman who is the bride-to-be of a rising star in politics. No, I’ve no knowledge of politics…but just watching TV has pretty much given me the “villian” aspect 😉

  5. elderfox says:

    P S I LOVE the photos

  6. joylene says:

    I did 4 months research for a Vietnam novel I wrote. I felt like an expert on the war when I was finished. Far from it, but the knowledge I gained helped me write a good book. I think authenticity is vital to a good story. I think we owe it to our readers to do the very best job we can. And besides, it feels good knowing that. Thanks for another great post, Carol.

  7. I research “from the hip.” I learn just enough while doing my first draft to put in a place-holder and then research more fully after the draft is completed. Otherwise, I find I spend too many hours looking up stuff I find interesting and NOT writing! ^_^

  8. Thanks so much for your comments. Katt – I’m sorry you and your father didn’t find the site. Such a disappointment. We had been given vague directions by a family connection met online, but until we located the now unused cemetery that has no road access, we weren’t sure what we’d find.

    Judith – Old museum copies of the cemetery plot maps were what helped our search. For a time we were at a dead end because the name we’d been given for the cemetery didn’t exist in any records.

    Joylene – I can’t imagine writing anything about a war without doing extensive research, so I applaud your effort. The world has been constantly at war since I was born, but even though some of my family members served, I’ve never been close enough to any of it to write with any authority.

  9. Carol B., Elderfox (Earlene) and Barbara Ann – Each of you has made reference to loving your research, and keeping at it even at the expense of getting any writing done. This is the focus of the second part of this post so I hope you’ll be back on Friday to check it out. 🙂

  10. joylene says:

    Carol, I meant to say that when I completed my book I showed it to a VN vet, and he asked me when I’d be “in-country”. That was the biggest compliment he could ever have given me. I’ve since lost track of the vet who helped me with my research. My greatest wish is that someday I get to say, “Thank you for all your help.”

    • That’s a great compliment indeed! And I’m sure he knew how much you appreciated the help Joylene.

      It’s easy to overlook showing appreciation to people in this business. We glean a lot in our mutually beneficial exchanges, and I expect that’s what’s behind the Acknowledgements in so many books… trying not to miss showing thankfulness.

  11. What a thrill!

    I love cemeteries!

    I’m getting overwhelmed with organizing research. What I thought I might use in one book might spawn three.

    If I ever get done with research.

    • I don’t love cemeteries, Sandra, but they have their fascinating aspects.

      Research can really get out of control, can’t it? It’s something that can keep us so occupied that it eventually edges out time for the actual writing. It’s good to do the appropriate preparation for our stories but we need to know how much is too much.

  12. Carla Gade says:

    Hi Carol, thanks for mentioning my blog series. It was great fun. I don’t know that I would normally go to such lengths in my research, but this was a new time period for me and I wanted to soak it all up. When I had the opportunity to go the the Dressing the Colonial Lady presentation I had friends online who were so wishing they could have gone so I decided to bring it to them. The place where it was held was only an hour and a half away in the exact area that I had been planning a genealogy research trip (I plan to write about one of my ancestors from there!). My research trip was two-fold and it was such a fabulous time. I was in my glory all day and evening!! I’ve been learning to share research resources with the email groups I belong to in various time periods since I write historicals and this is a great time-saver. I glean from others valuable research and share what I have learned. That’s one awesome thing about the internet – connecting and sharing with our writing peers.

    • It’s great to hear how your researching came about, Carla. And the idea of connecting and sharing is really making the internet work for you. You and your friends all benefit.

  13. My husband and I are the ones who present the program DRESSING A COLONIAL LADY that you mentioned. Carla attended one that we were hired to do for the Berwick Maine Historical Society.
    You can read about us and our 18thc. home as well as our costumed historical presentations at “” and “”

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