by Heather Moore
Whether you’re writing a historical novel, a contemporary novel, or a non-fiction how-to book, you need to do your research. You don’t need to be the expert, but you need to be as careful and as thorough as possible. Let someone else be the expert, and you can use their decades of research in your book.
Keep a list of sources, then cite them in your author notes. Some authors include resources in their acknowledgments. If you are writing historical fiction, you may need to include a bibliography. If you are writing non-fiction, you must include a bibliography. More and more contemporary novels have included resources in the author notes or the acknowledgments.
When I write historical fiction, I use a footnote system. Eventually I delete the footnotes and turn some of them into chapter notes. But I always keep the original version with the footnotes, so if I ever have to backtrack, or an editor questions the validity of a point, I can immediately locate my research. When I’m writing, I’ll highlight a word or a sentence that I need to follow-up with more research. That way, my writing isn’t slowed when I’m in the middle of a scene.
Some authors do all the research before they start to write the first sentence. And some might do just enough to get the story going. Researching can be two-fold. It can bog you down and eat up your writing time. Or it can inspire a plot, sub-plot or formulation of a scene. Find a balance. If you spend an hour on research, plan to spend the same amount of time on writing.