How to research your novel (without being bored to death)

Browsing through Wikipedia is a good start to any research endeavor, but reading about the chemical structure of heroin or the extensive history of the revolver can get a little dry. (Yes, I write crime fiction.)

1024px-Cat_on_laptop_-_Just_BrowsingTo fully flesh out your knowledge, it’s important to branch out. The best way to do that is to find firsthand accounts of what you’re interested in, whether it’s a social experience or a historical event, although not all of these ideas will be helpful if you’re researching history.

Talking to people

This can be hard for someone like me, who manages to be awkward even on the internet. But it’s worth it. If you can find someone who’s lived through whatever you’re writing about, that’s the best resource out there. Put on your best painfully awkward smile and force your way through it, because that information will be invaluable.


If you can’t find someone to sit down and talk to, the next best thing is to try the internet. Blogs are a great place to start. People pour their hearts out on their blogs. I’ve seen people talk frankly and honestly about their struggles with cancer, their recovery from addiction, their experiences as an artist or parent.


A lot of subcultures have forums, such as Drugs-forum, a place for drug users to socialize and share experiences and warnings. It’s an excellent resource if you’re writing about someone using drugs.

That’s not the only forum out there. Scan the internet for places where the people you’re writing about might go to find allies and friends. But when you’re in spaces like that, be sure to be respectful, as you’re essentially a visitor in that community.


The Moth is a podcast and radio show where people get up on an unadorned stage in front of a live audience and simply tell their story. Every story is powerful and moving, and every person has a unique one to tell. I’ve heard stories on first loves, giving up a baby for adoption, parenthood, and many more. Check out their archives and maybe you’ll find something for your own research.

There are a few other radio shows that have taken inspiration from The Moth, and also feature storytelling. Radio Diaries and Strangers are two of my favorites.

Finding someone who can tell their story in their own words is one of the most effective research techniques, and will give you a powerful sense not just of what should be written, but how it should be written. I hope these resources are helpful in your search!

Photo by Wilson Afonso from Sydney, Australia (Just browsing  Uploaded by JohnnyMrNinja) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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