Setting and Research
Suzanne Ruthven outlined several important tips when researching the setting of your novel. She said:
- Make sure your facts are accurate, such as if you are using real places you have not got your characters driving the wrong way up a one-way street.
- Make your own sketch-map of an area it is a good working tool whether, you setting is real or imaginary.
- Remember the information out at the time may be different form what we know now in hindsight. Pears encyclopaedias give details relevant to the year and can be collected quite cheaply from boot sales.
- Contemporary stories with flashback in time must be accurate. Double-check everything.
- Never take one source, do a lot of crosschecking. Where possible use library and university sites, museums and book searches where you can type in a keyword and find a lot of good reference books. Often, you can buy the books cheaply second-hand. For example from:
- The best research is unobtrusive. You don’t need to put everything in to prove you know your subject. Drop things in casually to set the scene and let the reader know a little background. You can paint a picture using the information this way. You have the research in your mind but only have to use a couple of lines.
- Use research to feed motivation and plot. It is no good your character having a glamorous job if you’re not using the job to move the story forward.
- Describe clothes and period costume by using action. Use the description and research as part of the action. All the time something should be happening.
- Check your setting compliments other areas of the plot. If you are trying to create an atmosphere with your research, it must work within the confines of the plot.
- Can your setting and the research you have done into it be used to create tension, conflict or theme? Could it be used to draw comparisons?
- If you are going back in history, do not forget to use all your senses. Think taste, smell and sound. Think like a photographer.
Suzanne suggested a good exercise is to go through your novel and list the settings you use. Consider how many and are they too similar or even too unrealistic. Examine their characteristics.