I always say I don’t write historical romance novels because the research is daunting. If you get something wrong in a historical, your readers will know. Were there trains in Wyoming in 1865? Did people take baths in Italy in 1838? What did they eat on the long journey the Santa Maria took from the old world to the new world? What rights did women have in Colonial India?
It’s a lot of work. And I’m lazy. I do have two historical novels I’ve written, but are not ready for publication. I know I’ve gotten a ton of elements wrong. I know there is more research to be done. I would just change them to contemporaries to make it easier, but the tropes I’m using would never translate to contemporary times. I’ve thought about both of those stories for years. The stories are good, the plots are awesome. It’s all that troublesome historical detail that has me hung up.
So I write contemporaries. But even in contemporary stories, there is research, and world building. How many hours a day does an architect work, and how much money does he make? Do firemen sleep at their fire stations? Can a woman who owns a coffee-shop-slash-bakery ever take a day off? What does a rural veterinarian’s day look like?
This takes some research too. I don’t want my characters to seem unrealistic, and I also want them to live “normal” lives, whatever that means. I know a lot about what I do for a living, and what a day for me is like, but I’m not writing about me. So the research has to happen.
I also have to build realistic scenes, realistic events, and realistic living situations. What is the weather in October like in Wisconsin, as opposed to California? What are holiday events like in rural areas, as opposed to urban areas? What kinds of industry might be more likely in Pennsylvania, as opposed to Montana? Is there a lake, ocean, or river? Or just a lot of rocks and pine trees? Are there wild animals, or just the neighbor’s dogs? j
This takes thought, as well as some research. In my first novel, set in a generic town in Wisconsin in October, the heroine runs a bed and breakfast in a town known for fall tourism and antiquing, and the hero is a fire chief. Halloween and the season’s first snowfall came at the same time in that story, because, in Wisconsin, that can happen. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone and looked it up. The young fire chief lived at the fire station. The heroine was extremely busy on the weekends, but not so much during the week, as she had guests in her B & B from Friday through Sunday.
Scene-building and world-building are important to make a story believable, but also to set a certain tone for the characters, and by extension, the readers. We read for entertainment, and all of that work on building the world our characters are living in, even if it is modern day, makes all the difference. Our readers get to escape to someone else’s, world, even if only for a couple hundred pages.
My research begins with Google, and often ends at the local library and a well-read reference librarian. Yes, even for a contemporary novel, there is research to be done. It’s a good thing I like libraries. And there’s no better research partner than an excited reference librarian.
How do you do your research for world-building? Do you write a particular genre because of the research (either because you like the research or are avoiding doing too much research, like me)? What are your go-to sources? Would love to hear your comments!