Research Tips for Writers

On our hour-long episode this month we talked about researching; why it’s important for writers to research, how we do it, and some tips and tricks we use to make it more bearable, and sometimes (dare we say it?) fun.

In one of Ashley’s researching tips, she mentioned the use of a reference manager. For those of you who are interested in using this method, she recommended Mendeley, which you can download free by clicking here.

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Sarah: Welcome back everyone to Dear Writer, today we are onto episode 24, and it is one of our main episodes. And today we are going to be talking all about our research methods, how we do it, why researching is important for novel writing, and yeah.

Ashley: Should be a good discussion, I think.

Sarah: I think so too, but first we should probably update you as to how our own writing is going. So how have things been on your end Ashley.

Ashley: They’ve actually been okay. I finished the chapter that I had started, last time, and I’m about halfway through the next one which has been a relief, it’s been going a bit quicker. I think it’s because the chapter carries on directly from the one before. The character point of view switched but it starts where the other one left off, which helped a lot.

Sarah: I can imagine.

Ashley: Because I already had the idea of where the chapter was going. So that’s, that’s been good. And having the Easter break to unwind a little bit and then work on the chapters was also quite good, just having that time, you know.

Sarah: Yeah definitely.

Ashley: What about you?

Sarah: I have also had slightly more success, I managed to finish the chapter that I had been writing, which that one had taken me a ridiculous amount of time, so I was very happy to get to the end of that. Although, it kind of wasn’t really the end of it because I ended up just basically writing an extra chapter to kind of finish off like a point that Ashley hadn’t quite managed to get to. But then that ended up being the entirety of the chapter, so I actually still have my chapter plan in quotation marks, which I never got to any of the points of, so that’s now the next chapter. So I have started that and I’m not quite… I’m probably about 800 words, through it, so not quite at the sort of third mark, because we tend to aim for about 3000. So it’s not too bad.

Ashley: We had a sort of, kinda like, would you call it? Pass the parcel of information in chapters. Because I think it started, you didn’t get to a chapter point in one of the first ones, and then I was oh, I’ll just put it in my chapter. But then I didn’t like get to the end of that one, and I can go in the next one, and I didn’t quite fit it in. And then the chapter ended up being like 5000 words, I was like I can’t fit possibly fit this in this one. Moved on to yours and then it ended up being its own chapter, so probably for the best I didn’t put it in that funeral chapter that would have just been way too long.

Sarah: I should clarify and explain that it’s not like we passed the same point chapter to chapter that we never got through, it was like, you know, we had like one left over point and then that started off the beginning of the next chapter. And then so just like pushed like the end of the chapter points, each chapter into like a new chapter eventually, so if that makes any sense.

Ashley: Yeah I think it’s okay.

Sarah: But, making progress.

Ashley: I think my think mines at—I’m not, I’m going to check right now what it’s at. I think it’s 1500 now, which is good.

Sarah: Nice, that always makes me feel like, oh I need to, need to catch up.

Ashley: However, I am about to start the… we have like a, they go to a play basically. And that’s something I’m gonna have to research, a lot. I know a bit about it from like studying classics, but I need to create the theatre, and then figure out what’s going to happen. So that’s probably going to take quite a while, so I think you’ve got time for…

Sarah: Hmm. So, I guess, we should dive right into our topic for this month.

Ashley: Sounds good. So for this month, our topic was, as Sarah said before, how to do research, for your books and how we find information and… oh. How we can help you find information better and smarter. It’s the morning here, so sometimes when I record I’ve only just woken up so that’s my excuse. Anyways, before we talk about how we research and all our tips and tricks that we have to share with you, we should probably have a brief discussion about why it’s important to do research for your novel. Do you have some points to say about that Sarah?

Sarah: Yeah, so I think research really helps you to envision the scenes in your mind, and gives you like a smoother writing session. It also helps you to envision not only whether an idea works, but how an idea might work. So you could have some basic idea that maybe you’ve even seen it done before, but researching the setting and the world might bring a whole new spin to that idea, which gives it a fresh take. And without research, you might completely miss that idea. Though I don’t exactly believe in the ‘write what you know’ kind of thing that people talk about, you can only imagine as far as your current experience and knowledge takes you. You can’t write about a thing if you don’t know it exists, and sometimes research can help uncover those things that you might not have thought about before. So that’s kind of my take on why researching is important to a novel. Do you have anything to add to that?

Ashley: I would definitely agree with the research helping to envision the scenes in your mind. Because, especially when you start off with a very basic idea, you know, that little nugget you’re like oh, this is really great, and then you… if you’re able to start researching that definitely opens your eyes to so much more information and possibilities that you didn’t even know before you started out, so. Always gives you really great ideas to continue expanding on your idea and make a more realistic I guess plot. I also think researching before you start your novel also helps you establish with your book or idea is actually doable or not. Because there’s always the chance that you have this one little piece of information, but it’s not enough if that makes any sense? Or it’s been done before, so I think researching not necessarily even researching in terms of you know, getting on your computer and finding out information about it, but also reading in your genre or reading other books that may have that idea in it, to see whether it’s actually first of all, novel in the first place. But also, that it’s going to be doable and give you an interesting plot. Yeah. And then sort of to add to what you said, I think researching also helps you bring your characters and setting and plot to life. And when you have all that information backing you up, can help give your novel… feel more authentic, I think. And build your world more accurately as well. Especially if you’ve done it before hand so you don’t have to go back and then try and build the world around what you already have because you’ve done something, you know, that’s not quite accurate. Or you’ve accidentally included something that you know wouldn’t have happened, or whatever so, can help you that way.

Sarah: You know, there’s nothing worse being a reader when you know—like we’ve talked about this before on, I think it was the injuries and inconsistencies when you know about a certain thing and then you’re like, this is just not realistic at all. So I mean I think that’s the obvious sort of reason for researching, but there is like obviously a lot more to researching as well, and why it’s important to do regardless, but yeah. Ah dear.

Ashley: I was going to say, kind of a good example of us researching and finding out things that have helped our book: I think with characters, especially in our historical fiction, doing the research around the time period has given us a lot of characters that were historical figures that we may or may not have found on our own. Like we probably just would have invented some people, but researching that time period, we’ve actually been able to incorporate these really interesting characters that are already, you know already exists to make it hopefully feel like you’re actually in Ancient Greece with these people and their ideas and things. Researching definitely gives you more ideas for your book, but also can give you ideas for other books as well. Like you’ll come across an interesting side point and you’re like, that’s very interesting, I’m just going to note that down for later and maybe we can use or maybe it can come into play in a different book or something like that.

Sarah: Yes, this is true.

Ashley: Like we’ve had that with like researching the… I guess our time period and whatever, we find certain things where we’re like, oh that’s super interesting, maybe we can use that, as you know, the foundation for one of the next books in the series or whatever, which is good.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. I’ve had a few of those where it’s like, oh, this is an interesting person that’s  sort of close to the time frame, but isn’t quite kind of in the thick of it yet. And it’s like, well I can see involving this person later down the line, or something, you know? Yeah.

Ashley: Yeah. Which is cool. And I guess you already briefly mentioned about writing what you know, versus writing is without any sort of first-8hand experience, did you want to expand on that at all?

Sarah: Sure. I always leap ahead in answering these questions, so. But to expand on what I said, yeah. I don’t believe you need to be an expert in something to write about it. But you know it doesn’t hurt to do some research to give your writing an authentic feel, and I think taking what you already know and combining it in a fresh way with the world you have put your characters in can make for like some really interesting reading. Add to that, you know, a bit more research to confirm and expand your knowledge and then it helps to put that knowledge and put your characters into like a better context. And it helps to put your knowledge into a better context as well, of what your characters are going through, if that makes sense. I do really believe in the old adage that’s like, never assume anything.

Ashley: For sure.

Sarah: Assume, what is that? Assuming makes an ass out of… you and me.

Ashley: You and me. Yeah. Definitely.

Sarah: Whatever that is. It has taken me far in life, that. And far in my career, because as a nurse you really don’t want to be assuming anything.

Ashley: No, you wouldn’t.

Sarah: Yeah it goes for writing too, I think, because you don’t want to believe everything that you see. You know, don’t believe something that might have happened on a TV show, just seeing it doesn’t make it true, so you know, trawl through the Internet to find real people’s experiences and real examples and you’ll find that the quality of your work will improve immensely.

Ashley: I think we found editing and writing our teen fiction series, we found a lot of instances where as teenagers, we had just assumed something—

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: —Was true, and then later on, we’re like ah, I don’t I don’t think that’s right. And then double check, no that’s definitely not right.

Sarah: Yep. And then you’re forever fixing mistakes.

Ashley: Yeah, and then they sometimes, you know, you miss some of them and then later on you’re like oh no, it’s another one of these.

Sarah: I think you get tired of fixing them too, like we went we went back to look at our book after passing over it so many times, and it was like, why did we not change that? Why were we waiting so long to change that because even just reading over it, I knew it was there, but I think you just get like so tired of it. Your like, oh it’s all right.

Ashley: You’re like it’s not as bad as the other stuff I removed.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: It’s probably fine.

Sarah: And then later, you’re like it’s not fine. It’s really not. So, if you start out on a more positive note of having done the work, you can avoid that.

Ashley: Yes, yes. For me, I think it’s great if you can write from what you know. It definitely can give a lot of realism to your story, and it can build your story up really authentically. I think this for us would be most visible in our teen fiction series, because we grew up in the setting, so I think we add quite a lot of detail, and observation, and I guess like feeling from the setting, because we know it quite intimately. Yeah, so you know if they have their camp in the bush, we don’t need to google what the bush looks like because we’ve both camped in the bush, done bush-walks. You know what it smells like, you know usually what kind of trees there are, everything like that. I also think even though our characters go through some quite intense issues, obviously we were all teenagers once and you can remember how you felt and how you reacted to something, so I think having our characters as teenagers also we’re able to put our experience into that. However, I don’t think everything you write has to be familiar to you, because otherwise a whole bunch of books wouldn’t get written. Because we can’t go back to Ancient Greece to see what it was like, and we’ll never really know what the people back then were like either, so we have to just infer that from what we read. So, although I guess, a lot of the emotional context from our ancient Greece book can probably be gained through experience or having, you know, writing it because you’ve experienced it. But, Sarah and I will never be hoplites, we can’t tell you how soldiers used to fight or have experienced it ourselves back then. On another note I’ve never had to hijack a car like they do in our teen fiction series either, so I think some things do require research, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But that’s when it gets hard to get right though, as well, because you’ve researched it so you want to make sure that you convey it so people who have experienced don’t necessarily realize that you haven’t. I guess that’s the challenge right?

Sarah: Mm.

Ashley: So, what do you think about reading books in your genre as a form of research for your novels or writing novels?

Sarah: It’s definitely a must. You know, it’s okay to do things differently, and imperative even, but you know you have to remember that you are writing to a specific audience. And if the book is so far out from what everyone else is doing in that genre, and it doesn’t obey the usual conventions of that genre, if you market it under that genre your audience may be dissatisfied. So I think you do need to ask yourself the question, you know, am I really writing in this genre that you thought you were originally and, or would it be better defined under a different umbrella, you know? And I think that is an important question to ask after your first draft, even if you intended to create it under a specific sort of genre, are you still writing within that genre and the only way you’re going to know that, is if you have read a fair amount of books from that genre. And you know, maybe, maybe it didn’t and that’s okay, but you know you have to be clear on what that is because, otherwise, you are going to find marketing very hard and people are going to look at your book and be like, what? I thought this was a thriller but somehow, I have a romance book in my hand. You know, so I think that’s very important.

Ashley: Yes, definitely. We, we read a—bleugh… Sorry!

Sarah: That was amazing.

Ashley: I’m sorry. We read a lot of books for our teen fiction series, both books that have similar multi perspective viewpoints like ours, also books that are in the same genre as well, so that you can get a good feel about the state of the literature where your book would fit right now. Because a lot of the time trends change and what I guess any market, but even the young adult fiction market, a lot of what they like also changes quite a lot, especially from when we were teenagers to what they’re reading now.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: They’re are a lot more, I feel they’re are a lot more character driven now. Which has… I think we’ve taken that on board, because we’ve done a lot more character development in our teen fiction series that wasn’t there the start, in the first drafts.

Sarah: Yeah, I would agree with it, you know. I think there was like a time and perhaps we were kind of on the cusp of it changing, where action/adventure books were like a lot more common and sort of nowadays it’s, yeah, a lot more character driven. And a lot more… I want to say, like social issue kind of books for teens as well, has been really on the rise. Whereas, if you try to write that you know twenty years ago maybe, like ten/twenty years ago, people would be like you put that in a teen book? Oh my god. So, I think there’s less babying of teens at the moment, too.

Ashley: I would agree, cause I look back and I try and think what books I read as a teenager, and they’re like Alex Rider, or Harry Potter.

Sarah: Artemis Fowl.

Ashley: Artemis Fowl, yep. But yeah, and then a lot of the books I’ve read recently, because we’ve been trying to read ones that are like 2017 and newer, well that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

Sarah: In the last five years kind of thing.

Ashley: Yeah. Very, very character driven. So hopefully that comes through and our new and improved renditions.

Sarah: I do think though that we had the backbones to make it that way, which was helpful.

Ashley: We did, so it wasn’t just we randomly put it in.

Sarah: Just enhanced it.

Ashley: Just had, yeah. Had to let that come through I think more than it had in the original drafts. Which is also possibly why we had to split the first book into two parts.

Sarah: Well I think apparently that’s quite a common thing to do, though, when people start writing. Is that they’ll try and cram like way too many external plot events into their first novel and then, you know, or either that they don’t put enough in. They put like too much or too little in and sometimes, you know, I’ve heard editors pick up books and they’re like, you have two or three books here, in one. So I, when I heard that or when I read that, I was like oh. We made that mistake for sure. We definitely didn’t have the ‘too little’ side of things.

Ashley: No.

Sarah: We definitely had conflict, just a lot of it.

Ashley: Yes, I think we ended up splitting it in the right spot as well, it works quite well.

Sarah: We really did, yeah. Anyways.

Ashley: We’ll continue on. Was there anything else you wanted to add about what we’ve just talked about, about why research, like different aspects of why research is important? Or are we ready to move on?

Sarah: I think we’re probably ready to move on. Think we’ve made a good case for it.

Ashley: Okay, so for the next however long this podcast goes for, we’re going to talk about some of the tips and tricks Sarah and I have found for researching novels, so I think the first part… maybe we should just talk about how we go about researching a novel, right from the start. So when we write together we usually begin with outlining and doing a lot of preliminary research. I thought we could talk about what that looks like for us, and maybe it’ll be able to help you listeners out there.

Sarah: Yep. For sure. So we’ve kind of described it a little bit on the blog, you know, we typically come up with an overall book outline. And then after we’ve come up with the overall book outline, we will then sort of come up with specific chapter plans. But obviously there is a process that we use to do like the overall book outline. And we, we do this kind of in conjunction together but, I don’t know that we necessarily use the same method, in our minds.

Ashley: Right, yeah.

Sarah: So I know at least for me, is that I’m quite character based. So ideas come to me from characters and their internal change, and so we tend to have an idea of what the big external events could be, but then I usually have more of an idea as well, of where I want the character to be at the start, and where I want them to be at the end. So it’s like you know, what do I want to see the character change? And then part of like filling in the gaps, is how the external events of the plot can help shape that internal change. So, I guess for the external plot is largely dependent on setting, which is where the research comes into it. For our teen series, it was based on more like of a dystopic future, and so we were constantly asking the question of, what if, what if, what if. And you’re looking at like the resources they have, the stressors that are created by the current environment that they’re in. How a new development has affected culture, and therefore the character’s internal thoughts, so that was kind of like our teen series, I think. Like how the culture and the setting affects the character. For that, our historical fiction series instead of asking what if, we’re asking ourselves kind of like, what has already happened. And how does the events of the past drive the plot forward in a new and interesting way. You know, we were basically asking ourselves how can we twist the narrative but keep it consistent with what is currently known in the era and so that all requires a degree of research.

Ashley: Yes. A degree of research, it does.

Sarah: A degree. A high degree. So that’s kind of like how I view it, would you have anything different to add to that?

Ashley: I’m trying to think. So for the teen fiction one, I feel we operate on a similar wavelength with that one. Because we both know our characters very intimately, I think. And so a lot of what we have is we know like what we wanted them to become by the end of the book, or by the end of the series. But we’ve been doing it book by book. So by the end of the book, we know where they, where we want them to be. And we also have ideas of conflicts between characters from previously that we, you know, we’ve thought of. And we’re like, hey, we should put this in because this will let this happen. So I guess merging those in with the plot. And, because we’ve been working on the teen fiction one for a while, I feel like we already have quite a good vision of what we want to happen, kind of in each book. The specifics are a bit up in the air, but we know that we want like certain big events to happen. So, I think that makes… well, one, it kind of reduces a little bit of the amount of research you have to do, I think, because a lot of our world is already set up. And a lot of the events, because we’ve just imagined them, yes, you have to make sure that they’re actually feasible, but apart from that, you can pretty much have whatever happened that you so choose.

Sarah: Yep. Yeah, and I think with that, you know, we’re sort of asking ourselves the question of what is the worst possible thing that can happen to our characters, sort of over the course of the series, and like challenging them in the worst possible way, and then you add the external event on to like make it even more intense.

Ashley: Yes, yes. You’re just like, just is this event semi realistic, can we, you know…

Sarah: Or like, the external event like feeds into the internal event, but yeah.

Ashley: Yes, exactly. However, I think our experience of the historical fiction, or at least for me, has been a bit different. Anyways, with our ancient Greece book, it had… it did require a lot of pre-researching just to find even the time period or the loose setting where our novel was going to take place. And from there, when you start researching around it, you start to find other cool interesting events that happened back then. You’re like, okay, like this is really interesting, this is really interesting. You could sort of see a plot starting to form. And then we had to create our characters. I think this is probably now I guess can feed into when we relooked at this book, because we pretty much had… we’re similar place now as we were back then. We had the rough idea of the time period it was going to take place in, the historical events that happened, but then we had to put characters into it. And this time we purposefully chose charac—well some characters that were already there. I think more than there were in the, in our original idea. Which has helped a lot. And we also created more purposefully our main characters that weren’t around in that time period. And Definitely, with an eye on who they were and how, like what we wanted them to learn in the process. And then came the even more of research phase. I’m gonna call it that, because you have the loose outline, but then trying to put that into a coherent story—

Sarah: Ergh, that was so challenging.

Ashley: Including character development and changes was very challenging. Especially trying to work in, you know, characters that weren’t there, and have them influence a historical event.

Sarah: Well also, because it’s set really in two different time periods, so we were like researching two different threads of the story, and then trying to work out whether we’re both on the same page. Like I remember that.

Ashley: Yes.

Sarah: Especially with the start of the book.

Ashley: I think, yeah we always bite off a lot.

Sarah: We do, we’re very ambitious.

Ashley: We couldn’t just stick to like, one story thread. We’re like, no. We must include more. Well you like it to be more, multi multiple layers and things. I think, we talked about this with Emé, about how having multiple level, layers in a story… like she enjoys it, and so do we. So much more intrigue and you can do so much more with it.

Sarah: And it’s much more challenging, but in a good way.

Ashley: Yeah. So anyways, a lot of research just to do the general outline, because even though you have your key events and your characters now, it’s another, like a whole nother thing trying to mash them together into a story. And then Sarah had to write the chapter plans, after that, so we go from outline to even more in depth chapter plans, which I think took even more research, because at least we then had, you have the, you know, the i—you know, he goes to Ancient Greece, and then Sarah’s like okay, where does he arrive in Ancient Greece? What’s happening when he gets there? So you can you know, have a few chapter points about that. You know, continue on to the next one, so that’s even more research. And then you end up with your chapter plans and then you go to write it, and it’s more research again as Sarah and I have found out.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: Although, or actually this does lead into the next point really well. Which was about researching while writing, and if we do this and well, obviously we both do it. And what it looks like. So maybe I’ll pass on to you cuz I feel like I’ve been talking for ages.

Sarah: Yeah so, as we’ve said, we do do research during writing. I’ll generally try and look over the chapter outline, and then when I’m trying… like I sit down before writing the chapter, look it over, and then I try to envision kind of what’s going to happen in my head. And with the Ancient Greece book, I often find when I’m sort of sitting there trying to imagine it, there are these black holes. Where, I haven’t quite got something figured out, and so then I have to try and work out what those black holes are, because sometimes it’s not always obvious. It’ll be like you know why can’t I imagine this particular scene? And so, currently for me for an example, I’m at a point in my chapter where, you know, as I said, I’ve written about 800 words of it. And then I’m kind of about to dive into the real kind of meat of the chapter, where I need to work out what an Ancient Greek gymnasium looks like, and I don’t know what it looks like. I have, like that is a total hole. Like I just imagine, I’m just imagining like, you know, people fighting and wrestling but I don’t really know it that looks like around that. So I’m just kind of like, uh? So there’s a bit of research that needs to be done there. And so, when I do like go away, do a bit of research and then slowly it kind of starts filling in, I start being able to see a bit more, and the characters start becoming a bit more alive. The black holes happened a lot less often with the teen novels. Because it was based in the very near future, and as we’ve explained, you know we grew up and kind of the setting. So I could generally see where they were moving kind of through and if I didn’t like things that needed researching was sometimes like, parts of New Zealand where I was unfamiliar, or there were things relating to the military, like weapons, designations, vehicles, equipment. That kind of thing. Which was sometimes just easier to add later because, even if you don’t know exactly what make or model gun they’re using, you can just be like, oh well. You can imagine like a rifle or whatever, you don’t necessarily have to, have to be super specific about it. So some of that stuff was added later through editing which you know, it was a lot faster writing because of that. But yeah. What does it look like for you when you’re writing a chapter, Ashley?

Ashley: I do a similar thing. I don’t purposely sit down and try and imagine like the whole chapter at once, usually I’ll sit down I’ll be able to imagine it to a certain point. So I can write it, but then usually, because I play the scene in my mind when I’m thinking about it, so you know I’m like okay, the characters meet, that’s fine. They walk to the door, and then they open the door and I’m like, ah. And then it’ll just be like a head, or like they’ll see a character, but like the characters won’t do anything.

Sarah: They’d be like, standing there space.

Ashley: Yeah, pretty much. And I’m like oh, okay so something needs to happen here. Either maybe it’s because they don’t know each other or maybe it’s because I don’t know what the setting is, or whatnot. My most recent one, I was doing a, like a sacrifice, but the problem was I didn’t know…

Sarah: You just had them standing randomly outside and there’s a bunch of people around and you’re like, what’s going on?

Ashley: Pretty much, they’re all just standing, and I’m like, oh okay, that’s cool. Don’t know who they’re sacrificing to, I don’t know what they’re sacrificing. So there was just blood, I can see blood on the ground.

Sarah: And like a random fire somewhere.

Ashley: Yeah, that’s literally all that’s in my mind. I’m like, oh okay details need to be filled in. So then I’ll go do, do research.

Sarah: I think we do it quite a similar way, that way. Because I have very much the same experience where I’m just like, I can see a house. And there’s someone in the house, but we’re not doing anything. They’re sitting.

Ashley: I did actually keep a list from one of my chapters, which I thought I would share because quite amusing. I’ve taken out some of the things that give away plot points. But you can get the gist of what goes on. So this was a chapter that was actually set in the present, and this is as I’m writing, things that suddenly I’m like oh, I need to know this. So, it starts off ‘Greek gold crown’ followed by, ‘Did Greeks have gold?’ which I thought was a good question, cause I was like maybe they didn’t, I don’t actually know.

Sarah: They did, I think.

Ashley: Yeah. Followed by, ‘How much cash fits in a briefcase?’ followed by, ‘What are antiques wrapped in for protection?’ and this obviously went down a massive rabbit hole. ‘Greek nightclubs; dodgy areas in Athens; homelessness, Athens; church door decorations; types of church doors; types of light bulbs; light bulb noises, question mark; Chippendale desks; Greek theatre masks; do scooters have keys?’ So, there were more, but I had to take them out. So that was like my list of as I’m writing things, I’m like actually, is this a thing?

Sarah: That’s great. I don’t make lists, but I just kind of like get stuck and then I’m like okay, hang on a second. Yeah.

Ashley: I don’t usually make them, but I was getting to the point where I was like this is ridiculous amount of stuff I’ve had to research, and then I was actually thinking of making a blog post about doing research, I was like oh, I’ll just like note down everything. And then I was like this is too amusing, I’m not do this for every chapter, but I’ll just keep this in case it’s useful, so. Now you get to hear my random list. But when I’m actually writing chapters in the past, obviously there’s, the list is a lot more extensive. And once I’ve got a good handle on, like I can run the scene or sections of the scene through in my mind, I then have more specific questions like, you know, I’m like okay, they ate breakfast. I’m like, what did they eat for breakfast? Did they have plates? Did they have cutlery? Are they sitting at a table? Or you know, did they use candles or lamps. More often it’s something like, did they have, and then, insert whatever item it is here.

Sarah: Yeah that happens a lot to me as well. But yes.

Ashley: Or, things like, what plants did they farm in this season? Because they’re walking through farmland. I think that’s why it takes such a long time. And for some of the things I don’t want to put a placeholder, because I feel I need, I’m going to need it for subsequent chapters. So I recently—especially this Ancient Greece one—I’ve tended to do the research, even though it’s going to take time, in hopes of saving me time later down the line. I think that’s worked in some cases, because a lot of the time now for some of the everyday conversation-type scenes, I don’t need to research every detail anymore. Because they know what they’re wearing, I know what season it is, I know what plants are around or, you know, what the climate’s like. I know kind of what the house looks like now, so I don’t need to every time I’m in a different room be like, okay, what does the courtyard look like? And then spend a couple hours looking up like Greek courtyards and their layout and stuff like.

Sarah: Mm hmm. I think we can probably dive into tips and tricks with researching.

Ashley: Excellent. Do you want to, you can go first.

Sarah: Okie dokie. So I tend to come at it from more of like a layman’s knowledge of researching than what Ashley does, considering Ashley is a researcher. I find it is really helpful to access journal articles, especially if you’re doing a historical novel like Ashley and I. But there are other ways to research, too, so I wanted to kind of touch on those. So, often I will do like a really broad internet search and google around the topic, but I do take everything with a grain of salt. So, when I’m doing my internet research, I’ll google it and then I’ll open, you know, just about every webpage I can find on the topic, and then I’ll run through each page and kind of the things that are mentioned on most pages, I’m kind of like okay, well they’re mentioned across like all these pages, they seem to be kind of… I can probably take this as more true than not. Whereas if I find something that’s only mentioned on one page, and not mentioned anywhere else, then I start questioning it, and I’m like hmm, I’m not so sure about this piece of information. I will sometimes still use it if it’s going to be something that’s kind of really interesting or… but I tried to confirm it with sort of multiple resources, because I figure the more things that mention something, the more likely it is to be true. And yeah, so it’s not as good as peer reviewed articles, but it is something. And other things I find helpful for like people’s experiences of things, I think YouTube is really great for. For example, obviously, having medical knowledge I’m pretty good at describing wounds, and bodies, and diseases, and things like that. But to know how something affects someone, and what it feels like to live with a medical condition is completely different, right? So instead of relying solely on my medical knowledge, I will YouTube people’s personal experiences to gain a better appreciation for it. Because often they have really interesting things to say about it, you know, and it helps you kind of understand what it is like to live in their shoes a bit more. Even for something that’s like, what it’s like to live in a particular part of the world, YouTube can be really good for that as well for like walk around tours and stuff. I did this a little bit for my own book where I was sort of researching the setting and I was trying to work out like, kind of get a feel for the place, because I’ve never been to the place before. And so, I YouTubed it, and did like a few walk around tours and, you know, saw like what the city’s like, how there’s a lot of greenery and stuff around, what kind of plants and stuff they’re walking by, what the shopping’s like, sort of whether it’s more like boutique village or big city. So that kind of thing can be really helpful with YouTube. And other things that I find useful is Google Street Maps, is also helpful for when you’re trying to research other places in the world. And Google Scholar, if you can’t get articles and you have like something specific that you’re trying to research, then sometimes Google scholar can be really great. And you know, knowing—I’m sure Ashley will talk a bit more about this—but like knowing how to use search terms is also quite helpful. So, knowing that you can include things like ‘and’ to link topics together. And you can use words like ‘not’ to exclude topics. Like so you know, you do a search, a broad general search, and you come up with something that’s… it starts coming up with something that’s totally off topic and you’re like, this isn’t what I want, but I’m trying to research something that’s kind of similar, so…

Ashley: No, go away!

Sarah: Then you might search, you know… I’m trying to think of an example. Like, ‘Boeotian Calendar NOT Doric calendar’ or, I don’t know, something like that. So that can be helpful. I’m trying to think of the other ones that are typically used, I think those are the ones I use most often but, Ashley might shed some light on that later, I don’t know. But also researching sites that are specific to what you’re researching. So, you might find that, like for us, when we were writing the teen fiction series, occasionally I would go to like the New Zealand army site, the official military site, because it had information on specifically the New Zealand army and stuff like that. And so just rather than automatically trusting what Wikipedia says, sometimes some sites have specific, go-to information and you’re like okay, yes, this is a government site, there—well I don’t know how trusting people are of the government, but typically I’m like okay, yeah. They’re probably telling the truth, I know some people a bit more suspicious than me, but.

Ashley: Well that’s the official information right?

Sarah: Exactly.

Ashley: So I think it’s fine.

Sarah: And libraries. So, I totally forgot about libraries for a period of my life.

Ashley: Me too, me too.

Sarah: It sounds obvious, but it’s not always. You can go to the library and get books out on topics, sometimes they even have textbooks, which is very useful. But even like, my public library, for example, they have digital resources asides from books. Like you can take short courses on things, so you can get a lot of stuff from your public library, so I would highly recommend that, too.

Ashley: And I’d also forgotten about it, too, so.

Sarah: Surprisingly a treasure trove of information, and it seems so obvious but…

Ashley: It does.

Sarah: It took like my husband being like, why don’t you get some books out from library? And I was like, why don’t I?

Ashley: You were like, oh they probably won’t have what I’m looking for. And then you’re like, ah! They’ve actually got quite a lot.

Sarah: Yeah, exactly.

Ashley: Quite a lot of different topics and things.

Sarah: You think they don’t, but they have a lot. The only thing that I do find annoying is when you’ve got like so many books out on a topic, and then you can’t get through them before the hold lapses, before you have to bring it back and you’re like ah! I hadn’t gotten to that book yet. But you can always hire them out again, so.

Ashley: Yes, exactly.

Sarah: Anyways, so did you have any tips as being a researcher?

Ashley: Yeah, so I do have a couple blog posts about this, and you can check them out, if you want. They’re a little… uh… we’ll see if they’re more in depth or not. They cover some different topics that I’m not going to bring up. But, I do have a few that I think are quite useful. So my first one is I’m a strong advocate for using Wikipedia with caution. I use it, particularly to find keywords because often the topics I’m researching, I don’t really know a lot about them. So you can search and, you know, do a quick google search and if something relevant comes up in Wikipedia, you can look through it and just jot down a few of the key words or phrases that you can use to then search more reliable sources, let’s go with that. So I do find it really useful to get an overview of whatever you’re searching. And I’d recommend that when you start researching, you start with a broader topic as you possibly can, and then get more specific as you find out more information about whatever you’re looking for. I thought I’d use an example. So recently my chapter was about like a sacrifice. And it happens to occur at new year’s. So the very first thing I did was obviously look up like ‘Thebes, new year’s’ or whatever. And that gives you a very, very good idea at how much information is out there, because if you search something like Thebes and new year, and nothing comes up, you know that you’re going to probably have to start doing a lot more intensive research and that it’s not, there’s not a lot of resources out there for you to find. So, then, I went to the very next place my mind jumped was, how do the Ancient Greek celebrate new year’s in the first place, then. If I can’t get it for Thebes, how do they do it, you know, more widely. So then I’d start, you know, going down that path. You find that Athens does it one way, you know, Corinth does it another way, Sparta does it another way. But I did realize that there’s like a specific God that they tend to worship at that time, so then I was like, okay. I know that, you know, in Thebes their new year is around the winter solstice. What other festivals in Greece are around the winter solstice, and what gods do they worship then? So I did that, then you find, you know, whatever god. So Demeter and Poseidon with the gods that I found and I was like, okay. And then, you know, look up what they are. Demeters like basically God of the harvest, and Poseidon is they say the god of ocean, but he’s also the god of water and rivers and growth, because we know like water going into regions. I’m like okay, so Thebes is agricultural, it would make sense that it could be one of these two for their new years. So, then, I looked up you know Poseidon’s festivals and there’s like ones that happen regularly on the winter solstice in nearby towns, you know. I was like you know what? I’m going with it. No one knows, so that’s how I got to what I ended up doing for the festival slash sacrifice slash New Year celebration that they have. So yeah, start broad and then I guess, start narrowing it down.

Sarah: One thing that I would add about Wikipedia as well, if we just go back a bit, is that things that I’ve done in the past, like using Wikipedia is, you know, scroll down to the references and actually like open the the tabs that connect to the references. And sometimes they will be more detail on what you’re kind of wanting, and provide more useful information than just Wikipedia alone would. And it also should, sort of shows you the quality of the references as well. So, if you open it up and you’re like oh, this webpage is really strange. Then you think, well and Wikipedia says this, so I’m not sure how much I trust this Wikipedia article. So that is one thing that is also useful to do.

Ashley: Definitely, I would agree. It’s really easy, well, you can quickly tell how much is known about a topic just by having a quick look at those references at the bottom.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: Unfortunately, with the Ancient Greece book more often than not it’s, you open one and it’s like some real weird website.

Sarah: Website not found. You do get that a bit as well and it’s like, oh well.

Ashley: Another thing I’d suggest. So, I like everyone else, open hundreds of tabs you know when I’m researching a topic. But I also have a notebook next to me, because I find I get really off track sometimes when I’m researching, and I go down tons of rabbit holes and then forget where I was. So I tend to have a notebook next to me, and I just write down like keywords or little bits and pieces from some of the web pages, and you know circle them to remind myself to go back to them. So that’s really useful. I do that with chemistry as well because I’ll click on something, I’ll be like oh, I could do this! Go off on a tangent and I’m like, I don’t even know where I started. And there were other things I wanted to research, but I can’t remember what they were because I got so distracted by this random rabbit hole that I’ve gone down. I would also suggest being all encompassing with your sources. So just because you can’t find it on Google doesn’t mean you’re not gonna be able to find it somewhere else. So, I always use Google, I use Google Scholar a lot, I also use… there’s a lot of open access journals and databases that you can use that often you can find a lot more peer reviewed articles. But then also like Sarah said, using the libraries, or even textbooks as well, or—I know it’s old school, but—encyclopedias too. From way back in the day. Do you remember going to the library and having to do your research from an actual encyclopedia.

Sarah: Yeah I do. Way back in the day. You’re like, which volume do I need? Volume three, and volume seven… whomph! You open the book. Page 1163.

Ashley: And then it’s like, when you get there and then it just says, see… and it’s like another one and you’re like, noooo! Anyways. Using a lot of other sources, I’ve found recently that books have been a really good source of information, especially about these ancient Greek topics. You see, a lot of the research was done quite a long time ago, so sometimes it’s not widely available online. So you actually need to go find a book or some nonfiction work by some random person who’s, you know, studied it quite in depth[ly] and can provide you with whatever information you’re looking for. Also, save your resources. I actually use reference manager software, you can get them for free, you can just download them. I think ones Mendeley, or Zotero, and it allows you to save the website, along with notes. And if it’s a book or a journal, you can save the PDF in it as well, and then you can like categorize it by topic. So it’s really, really useful.

Sarah: That does sound useful, I should probably start doing that.

Ashley: It is very, very helpful. And I like the object group things by topic which is always helpful because, nice easy access. And because it can automatically save a lot of the reference information for you, so like the title and the journal and the authors and stuff like that, you can write your own notes next to it. So I’d recommend.

Sarah: So that was Mendeley, that you use? Which one do you use?

Ashley: I use one that’s not free, but Mendeley is free and most people in my lab group use Mendeley.

Sarah: Maybe I will put that link in the show notes or something.

Ashley: Yeah, for sure it’s very helpful. And the final thing I was gonna say is, if you can’t find something I think it’s okay to use a bit of creative license with some things.

Sarah: Yeah I think if you’ve thoroughly researched the topic…

Ashley: Yeah, and you can’t, cuz you’re not gonna be able to find everything you’re looking for. Well, especially for us, looking in Ancient Greece there’s some stuff that just isn’t there, so we’ve taken a bit of liberty, occasionally.

Sarah: It is a fiction novel, so.

Ashley: Yes, you can take some liberty with it. Like if you can’t find the exact person who, you know, this person spoke to in 1705, it’s okay. You can probably put a different person in there, and it’s gonna be fine. We’ve done it a few times already, where I’m like, I can’t find anything I’ve just made him wear this. Or I can’t find, you know, what they would have done here, he’s just doing this because I’ve given up and it’s okay, as long as it’s—I think when you’re writing your book, you can get a feel for what would be realistic in your setting. So that’s okay. That’s about all I have to say. Was there anything else you wanted to add?

Sarah: Um, I don’t think so, I think that’s mainly everything. Should we move on to mistakes of the month, then?

Ashley: Yes. I love mistakes of the month so much.

Sarah: Did you want to go first?

Ashley: Sure, I can go first. I think all of these… nope. One of them comes from my newest chapter I’m writing, but all the rest, come from the chapter I’ve just finished. Okay, so. Here we go. “The years of peace between the cities were fracturing, and a fog of impeding war seeped across Hellas.” So it’s meant to be an impending instead of impeding. And also it kind of is impeding though as well, I guess.

Sarah: Yeah it’s impeding growth to the city.

Ashley: Yeah so it was meant to be impending. That one took me a while to find to be honest. It looked really similar, I was like something’s wrong with the word impending. Ah, I’ve written impeding. Alright, the next one is, “men and women frocked the streets as Helios drove his Chariot across the sky.”

Sarah: I like that one.

Ashley: It’s meant to be frolicked. Frocked.

Sarah: Frocked. It sounds like they’re all wearing like dresses, and like, I don’t know. I just imagined them dancing with these frocks.

Ashley: Yeah, me too. They’re frocking. I don’t know if that’s… anyways…

Sarah: They’re frolicking with their frocks. That’s what I imagine.

Ashley: Me too, but like not jubilant dancing, just kind of like, I kind of imagine swaying, kind of. A subdued dance.

Sarah: Yeah, like a rocking, but with frocks.

Ashley: Yes. Alright, so the next one is, “he would have to talk to Simonides another time when there was less risk of them being overhead” instead of overheard. Less risk of them being up in the air above their heads.

Sarah: I just see this big shadow like storming overtop.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: Less risk.

Ashley: And so, my final one, I’m just gonna preface this—I don’t know how this happened, but whatever. So, “she took another sip of wine in defiance before dislocating into laughter.” It’s meant to be dissolving into laughter. I assume I must have spelled it really incorrectly, just typed it in weird and then it auto corrected, but I was just like oh my gosh, what?

Sarah: Dislocating.

Ashley: Dislocating into laughter.

Sarah: Sounds like they’re dislocating their jaw or something.

Ashley: Yeah. It was so funny. That’s all the ones that I have, so what did you have, for your mistakes for the month, Sarah?.

Sarah: Mine, I didn’t have specific ones, really, this time. Like they were kind of spread out mistakes, like inconsistencies that I found.

Ashley: Okay.

Sarah: So the first one, I had was, ‘“Yet you have no concerns over inviting Ismenias’ own daughter into your home,” Sophus said, his eyes flicking over the attractive young woman at Helene’s side. “I did not kill her husband,” Alexis said, raising a delicate brow and throwing her long, loose hair over her shoulder.’ It sounds fine, except for the fact that we do not know Alexis’ name, or Simon doesn’t know Alexis’ name at this point, so he’s just strangely had this burst of intuition and it’s like, Alexis, right? Yeah. So that was kind of funny.

Ashley: I’m surprised you picked that one up. That one’s quite a subtle one but it does…

Sarah: It is very subtle.

Ashley: …now that you say it, you’re like, oh yeah. That’s a very good point.

Sarah: And then I also had a Lotus flower and one woman’s hair randomly ended up in another woman’s hair, further on in the chapter.

Ashley: Maybe they just had lots of wine and Ambrosia.

Sarah: Well, if that wasn’t weird enough, though. I also realized that it was winter, and Lotus flowers don’t grow at that time of year.

Ashley: Oh no!

Sarah: So I was like… yeah.

Ashley: You’re like, this is just wrong on multiple levels. What did you do to fix it? Did you put a different flower?

Sarah: Um, yeah. Put a different flower and took it out of the other woman’s hair.

Ashley: Ah good.

Sarah: Cause I was like, she doesn’t need one, she’s not important.

Ashley: Migrating flower.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: Passed around everyone to confuse Simon.

Sarah: The only other thing that I really had was, I struggled quite a lot with words. Just… I haven’t had this very often—

Ashley: With words?

Sarah: —where, I know kind of what word I want to use, and I know the meaning of it, but then, when it comes to sounding it out and spelling it, I’m totally off. And, that was for, so one of the words was [sic] lacksadaisical. And, I thought it was lapsidaisical.

Ashley: Oh no.

Sarah: So it was looking up like, L A P, and it took me a while to find the correct word, and then I was like, that’s the one that I meant. I don’t understand how I like know the word, but then I don’t know it. Do you know what I mean?

Ashley: I know, it happens to me all the time. I’m terrible at spelling so I’ll be like ah, this word. And then it doesn’t come up, and I’m just like, I swear that’s the word.

Sarah: It’s not like I’m purposefully trying to find these weird words, it’s just they feel like they fit, you know, and then I don’t want to use another word because that’s the one that it’s supposed to be. And then, when I do look them up, and then I look up the meaning just to make sure, because obviously I’ve struggled a bit, and I’m like no, yeah I was right.

Ashley: This is the word that I want.

Sarah: That is what I’m talking about. Fun times. Fun times.

Ashley: Yes. Anyways, if any of you have a mistake of the month you’d like to share, please, please send them in, we’d love to hear from you. And they’re always very amusing, so I look forward to seeing some of the mistakes that you all make.

Sarah: And if you would like to be on an author spotlight episode, then if you go to, and click on the podcast tab, and it will have a drop down menu that will take you to a form to fill out, and yeah. And we’ll get in touch with you after you fill out the form.

Ashley: And next time on Dear Writer, it’s our Culturing Creativity episode again, and this time we’re going to be talking about whether you’re procrastinating, or whether you’re propagating. So how sometimes procrastination can lead to good ideas, and other times it’s just procrastination. And if you’d like to know a bit more about us and a bit more about our writing projects, you can visit us at, or get in touch with us on Facebook or Instagram with the same handle @lindersoncreations.

Sarah: So if you enjoy the show, please rate and review us on apple podcasts, or subscribe on your podcatcher of choice, and tell a friend about us, we will be back next week! Happy writing everyone.