Many beginning writers know a novel is a work of imagination, but seem unaware that the factual material in a novel must be as accurate as that in a nonfiction work. The fiction writer uses the same research tools as the nonfiction writer—particularly sources on the period he is writing about, whether he’s writing a Regency romance or a novel set in 1930s New York. And the research must be carefully woven into the story, not dropped in awkwardly in a way that interrupts the flow. Study good novels to see how research is integrated, or read interviews with novelists to see how they approach it.
Identifying research needs is a very project-specific task. The best time to do this is during the initial outlining stage. As you add each scene, make a note of any research required to complete that step. Managing the results of your research requires good note-taking and leaving yourself a retraceable path back to the source. For information gleaned from printed sources, make a photocopy of the material itself and be sure to note the source title, publisher, publication date, the page numbers (if they don’t appear on the copy), and where you physically located the source. Keeping this information right on the copy will help you document your work and locate the source again, should that become necessary. If you’re doing research online, print out relevant pages and make sure that the Web site appears on your printout. Bookmark any sources you think you’ll return to often.
This tip was taken from the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book
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