Using Research As Your Novel Outline

I’ll be honest – there haven’t been too many people I’ve come across who outline before writing the first draft of their novel. Outlining isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to do in the world. I personally love it, but that’s a blog post for a different day.

Research, on the other hand, is something that people do quite often and at during multiple stages of the writing process. If I have an idea of what information I need to know, I always spend a good amount of time researching before writing. Using research as your novel outline is a great way to outline without “spoiling” the novel for yourself.

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A lot of research goes into novel writing. Despite it being fiction, we as writers try to make things as realistic as possible. We want it to be real for our readers. Researching is the way to do that and there are many different things we can research in outline form to set up for our first draft.

Setting & Time Period

Setting is easy and hard. If you’re writing about a place you’ve been to before, it comes somewhat easily. If you decide to base your novel in a foreign place unknown to you, then you need to research. This may include traveling to that place, jotting down ideas, taking pictures, and the like. I mean, why not make a vacation out of it?

Unless you were born in the 50s, you have no idea what it was like to live in the 50s. School was different back then, they dressed differently, and there are even different slang terms than we have now. This is research you need to do in order to make your characters authentic.

Characters

Speaking of characters, people were named differently back then as well. Certain names are more common in certain generations. Do you necessarily need to follow that? No, not really, but sometimes it’s helpful to know. We all have different “roles” as well. Yes, everyone should be treated equally, but maybe in your novel they’re not.

How To…

How many of you out there are writing about war or have frequent battle scenes? Do you know what it’s like to wield a sword? Do you know any fighting stances or techniques? Researching this before you write your novel will help the first draft go smoother when you get to those scenes. It’ll still need editing for sure, but less so in the long run.

Then there’s horseback riding, how to sew on a button, how to murder someone, and so much more. We can write about what we know and what we have experience with, but it’s more fun to write about what we don’t know and experience it first-hand through research.

So, whether you outline or not, doing a little bit of research beforehand is always a good way to go. Unless you want to completely wing and make stuff up… that’s cool too.

Do you research at all? If so, do you do some before the writing begins? Let me know in the comments below. Good luck! If you liked this post, please share it around!

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10 thoughts on “Using Research As Your Novel Outline

  1. Some require more of it than others, but I’m pretty sure there’s been at least a little research with all my books. Even if it was just checking a fact or two matched for the case of realism.

    The only one where I’ve had to use the research as a sort of loose outline though was my historical fiction story about the Battle of Hastings, where I had a list of the main points of the battle, in the order they needed to happen, so I could weave them and my story elements together in the right order, if that makes sense.

    • Oh yeah, definitely. There are some novels where you only have to do a fact check here and there. I love researching though and it allows you learn new things whether you use the information or not.

  2. Research is definitely important for world building because it spans all genres. In some cases I have researched prior to starting, and in other cases I’ve done research during the rewriting and editing phases.

    • With certain novels and genre, it definitely feels like the research may never end. Sometimes you can get away with a research session or two and other times you have to constantly check something.

  3. I research a lot for each of my books. Even though I know Salem well, I still use Google Earth to be sure about one way streets, etc. I check dates of events and often have to knoiw how things work. In one book I needed to know how commercial washing machines work. In another I had to know about immiggration proceedures in the 1920s. Need to know a lot about the witch trials. Fortunately, I LOVE research!

    • Research is a lot of fun! And I can definitely tell your books are accurate. I’ve heard of people using Google Earth for research. I think that’s a great idea!

  4. Preach it! I’ve stopped Blackbirds for now, and I’m working on a story called Downward Spiral. I’ve begun to write it, but my plan is almost literally all the research I have done on Schizophrenia from last year and this year. Because I researched, I know how to explain things that don’t make sense to the readers.

    Ex: “If it’s not common for a 40-year-old man to have a psychotic episode, then why is Kenji having one?”

    Answer: 1. Kenji has never received treatment or told his doctor. Any one else who could have either a) forgot, b) thought he was eccentric, or c) were afraid to tell, like he was. 2. If you read the prologue LIKE YOU SHOULD HAVE, you would know there are other factors at play, like grief.

    • Mental Illness is defintely something you need to research, especially if you’ve never gone through it before. It also helps to reach out to people who have said mental illness and use that information, as long as they willingly want you to.

      As for the prologue bit… I don’t understand how some people skip it. I know some people are anti-prologue and you definitely need to use it wisely, but if an author put it in, they put it in for a reason.

Let me know your thoughts!

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