Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fiction as Research

It seems like cheating to admit that I read fiction for research. Don't real writers only use primary sources as heavy as doorstops as research?
Not me. When I’m working on a project, I read a lot of fiction from that time period or setting.

Here’s what I've learned from fiction:

What’s already been written. Whenever I start a new book, I search my library catalog for books like it. I like to know what else is written about my topic or in my setting/time period, so I don't unknowingly cover the same ground. These titles can also be used for comp titles later on.

Get a feel for the atmosphere.  For my historicals, I do tons of factual research, but for me, there’s nothing like getting lost in the time period through a novel. I often take notes of what time period details make the story come alive. I always double check these details later, but I remember details from novels better than nonfiction books.

Voice and word choices.  It is often in fiction that I get a sense of the vocabulary of the period or the place. I take note of what things are called in this setting/time period, diction, and dialect. Fiction makes the voice of the time period come alive for me.

Go to the author’s website or read the author’s note/acknowledgements.  Going to the author’s website when they’ve written a book with my setting or time period is often helpful. They often have a bibliography or research notes about the book.  For example, Catherine Delors, a historical novelist for adults, has an extensive bibliography about Marie Antoinette on her website.

Here’s a few novels that I’ve used as a jumping off place for my research:
1812 Russia: War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy), For the King (Catherine Delors),  *An Innocent Soldier (Joseph Holub)
Novels with Falcons: Falcon in the Glass* (Susan Fletcher),
Wildwing* (Emily Whitman)
17th Century France: The Man in the Iron Mask (Alexander Dumas), The Moon and the Sun (Vonda N McIntyre), Gardener to the King (Frédéric Richaud)

Scotland: *Love Puppies and Corner Kicks (Bob Krech),  Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson), *Wild Wings (Gill Lewis)

*These novels are middle grade or young adult titles, the rest are adult titles.

Any one else read novels for research?


  1. I read both, but you are spot-on for seeking fiction for word-choices and historic sensibly. Specifically, fiction written at that time.
    Besides, fiction is so much more enjoyable.

    1. Yes, fiction is so much more enjoyable! :)

  2. Hmm, great tip, actually! I've been buried in research for months now, and I have to admit that I hadn't considered using fiction. It WOULD be a lot more enjoyable, and a lot less dry. Thanks for this!

  3. I get tired of the dry nonfiction too. I also like to watch movies set in the setting or time period I'm writing in too. :)