Our guest today is Aimie K. Runyan, author of historical fiction that highlights previously uncelebrated contributions of women in key moments in history. Her first novel Promised to the Crown comes out in April. She loves travel, music, and books above almost all things. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two children.
As a historian, I love digging through the archives and finding new and untapped sources for my books, but I know how hard it is to limit your findings when crafting a novel. I hope to help authors learn how to incorporate all their fun facts deftly in their stories to make them even more compelling.
Research is the Spice of Life
It doesn’t matter what genre of fiction you write, chances are you will have to research at least a few details throughout the course of writing your novel. It can be time consuming, and the material you find can be overwhelming. Worse, when the details you uncover are used inexpertly, it can bog down your writing.
Think of your novel as an entrée and your research as the spices (I love to cook, so bear with the food metaphors). Some dishes require a lot of spice. In this case, historical fiction is like Jambalaya—it requires a lot of spice. The reader may only have a cursory understanding of the time and place, and you have to research nearly every detail of daily life to fully build your world. Other dishes, like a lovely beef tenderloin require less, or you’ll overpower the inherent flavor. Think contemporary fiction, romance, women’s fiction, and the like where the reader has first hand experience with the life and times of your characters. Research might be limited to specialty information pertaining to a character’s career or city where they live, for example. A lot of dishes, say a marinara sauce, are somewhere in the middle. I like to think mystery, thriller, and sci-fi fall here. You may need to do some extensive research on a scientific concept or a type of weapon, but a lot of the details of your world may need less explanation.
The trick is knowing how to use the spice with a steady hand.
The first rule is the most important: don’t use more spice than the dish calls for. (Choose carefully which details to include.) If we don’t need to know all the details of the manufacturing of the murder weapon in your mystery, don’t include them. It is *so* tempting to use every detail you find. You work hard on your research, and you want to use it. But needless details are needless words, and we all know what to do with those.
Use spice to do more than enhance the taste; make your dish smell, look, and feel as appealing as it tastes. (Use your research to appeal to a variety of senses.) The tendency is to focus on the visual, but research can help us develop a more three-dimensional image of the worlds we create. [Read more…]