Research! It’s what can make the difference between a 4-star rating and a 5-star rating when I read a novel. The background story. The driving distance and time. The description of the scenery. All those little details make the story come alive, and in all my novels, I use those details to turn the unbelievable into something more realistic.
I’ll be honest, I might go overboard with how in depth I get into research. Hard not to with the internet being right at one’s fingertips. Google Maps alone has been essential from estimating length of entire road trips, to using street view to virtually walk locations, to looking at photographs. In addition, I use local natural resource agencies’ websites to learn about and describe the fauna and flora of my settings. For all background knowledge of my novels, I rely more heavily on books, course lectures, and documentaries. To date, I’ve learned about ancient gods and goddesses, daily life of ancient cultures, ancient Egyptian and Greek architecture, details about the ancient Egyptian afterlife, nautical terminology, what it takes to sail a tall ship, the history of the Gold Age of Pirates, spellcraft, and Conjure (or Hoodoo). All of which I apply to my novels in one way or another. Each fact I learn becoming a new piece in the puzzle that helps sprout new possibilities and ideas as I write.
But research is not just internet sources and books. The more I write, the more I find it’s also about life experiences. It’s about discovering the world my characters live in. For me, that includes trying the food my characters eat or trying the sports and hobbies my character’s participate in. I want to know how my characters interact with the world around them. What they smell. What they hear. What they taste. These little details paint scenes in my head. Scenes I then attempt to describe in words. I might not be one hundred percent accurate in every detail, but by going out and experiencing similar events, I feel comfortable it’s pretty darn close.
Rest assured that research is not my only criteria for rating a fictional novel. The plot, character growth, and quality are important as well. But books without details don’t draw me fully into the story. I’m a reader that needs to know the settings. I need to I need to understand the character’s history. I need to ‘feel’ everything. Which is why I apply so much research into my own work.