Researching a novel has gotten so much easier since the invention of the internet. A quick Google search can either answer your questions or point you in the direction of someone who can. But there are a few areas of both the internet and the real world that I’ve seen underutilized lately.
Here are three overlooked sources for your book research. These are resources that either I have personally used and benefited from, or they’ve been used by someone I personally know. I hope some of these can help you!
1) Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or other streaming services
Specifically, the documentaries section. Plenty of filmmakers have done research and documented experiences of people or situations that may be unfamiliar to you. This can be particularly helpful if you have a character in your book who is experiencing something you personally have not. Even if you don’t learn anything new from a documentary, there’s a power in seeing an experience or situation that you may need to write about on screen. In my book series, my main character was kidnapped as a kid and raised to be a North Korean spy. One way I learned more about North Korea was through Netflix documentaries. I can’t tell you how much it helped. I didn’t use any fact specifically, but watching them gave me a feel and understanding that I believe enhanced my books.
Additionally, don’t write off TV and movies as a form of craft research. If you’re struggling with the pace of your book, you may find a show or movie that’s incredibly well paced, or has a pace you’d like your book to have. I have an author friend who broke a movie down scene by scene to understand its structure. She then made a revision plan so her book’s structure would match. Or if you just can’t nail your character’s movement, find a character from tv/movies who reminds you of your character. Study their movements. Describe what you see. Then transfer your observations into your story.
And of course, you should also do some research on any documentary or video resource you use. Some are more respected and accurate than others.
This is one of the best-kept secrets in education and online learning. Coursera.org allows you to enroll in online courses from top colleges and universities all over the world. And as long as you don’t want a certificate, specialization, or degree, they are absolutely free. Classes tend to run around six weeks, but it can vary from class to class. Courses are primarily comprised of video lectures, short readings, and forum discussions. The time commitment is fairly minimal, and since you’re not getting a grade, you can do as much or as little of the work as you want. (I tend to only watch the videos…)
So, if you have a character who’s into biology or who’s a lawyer, but you don’t have a strong understanding of those areas, you can take a class on the topic! They also have great psychology classes that can help you understand your characters and their development better.
But be warned. If you like learning just for the sake of learning, this can be addictive. Every time I log on I sign up for more classes than I have time for.
3) The Library
I know what you’re thinking! The library is totally not an overlooked resource. And for books, the internet, and general information, you’d be correct. However, it’s easy to forget that magnitude of the library system. Libraries give us access to so much more than just books. According to the Syracuse University iSchool blog, you may also have access to museum passes, artwork, and even bones (from some medical libraries). So, if there’s a local museum that would help with your research, but is a little too expensive, your library might be able to help you out! And if you have a character who’s really into art, you could check out a piece of artwork so you can describe it accurately. Or if you’re writing a crime novel, having access to actual bones might be beneficial.
Also, keep in mind, you aren’t necessarily limited to the items in your library. I have a friend who got some very specific ink blots from a library out of state through an interlibrary loan program. If you want to know more about what your library has access to, you should definitely pay them a visit!
As always, I hope this helps!
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Now it’s your turn: What’s your go-to research source? Do you have an uncommon or overlooked source you can share? Tell me about it in the comments!