- Genre – This means reading a lot of works in your genre. You need to find out what’s been done, and what are the standard tropes of your genre. It can also involve in-person conversations. For Steam Palace, for example, I attended a few Steampunk conventions where I asked a lot of questions of steampunk enthusiasts as to “what makes a story Steampunk.” Other sources can include blogs about your genre, magazines, and reviews.
- World Building – If there is any kind of historical context or setting to your story, it behooves you to research the area in question. If you are writing SF/F in a “second world” setting (not a real Earth setting), your research may involve mythology, scientific studies, and other speculative works. Visit the settings in your book, talk to the locals. If it’s a made-up place, find a real-life place that is close. Make the bridge of your starship something like the bridge of a decommissioned aircraft carrier that you can visit.
- Character – Whether or not you base your characters on real people, it’s always good to have an idea of who your characters are. Biographies, memoirs, and genealogy are all sources of characters. Learn what made them do what they did, and see how it can apply to your story. Some characters are mixtures of many people, some are just certain aspects. If your character is in a specific profession, talk to people in that profession. Make sure you do this research for all your characters, not just the main ones.
- Story – This one is a little harder to define. This is more about learning about story structure beyond the standard of your genre. But it also involves interacting with your writing peers, whether at conferences or in critique groups. Find out what are the characteristics of good writing, and explore various styles of writing. Learn what the best way to tell your story should be.
How much research is enough?
I feel there is probably 2 main periods of research. The first comes before anything is written, when the story is still a concept. The second would be during the writing process, especially revision when you are trying to flesh out details. In terms of how much, I feel that if you are continually interrupted during the writing process to look something up, then you might want to dedicate a period of time to really understand your subject. But of course the actual amount of research will vary by subject and scope.
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