There is a world beyond Google. Historical archives, quirky museums and pray in a workplace are just some of the ways you can go about finding facts and new clues to your writing. And it pays to explore them. Well-conducted research increases the credibility of your entire story, regardless of whether you want to portray reality, or maybe just steal a little from it.
Call an academic
There are people who specialize in what you want – everything from how a petticoat was designed in the 16th century to how the facet eyes on flies actually work.
And many of these specialists get far too few curious questions.
The researchers’ mission is to research and educate students, but they actually also have the task of trying to reach out with their knowledge to the public. Read on around the topic, collect the question marks you have and call someone knowledgeable in the field and ask for a conversation. On the higher education institutions’ websites, you can usually find descriptions of the staff, their focus and contact information. Most people like to talk about what they are good at!
Many actors get to know their characters by finding attributes that are typical of them, and in the same way you as a writer can find your characters. Go to a thrift store and find clothes and accessories that you think your novel character would use, dress yourself in them and venture out into reality. How are the movements in a heavy fur coat? Which grip do you have best around a portfolio? How do big earrings sound when they hit the collar of the jacket? There are endless possibilities to play with identities and find your character’s peculiar attitude or indispensable characteristics.
Public document – you can read other people’s mail
You have access to a larger part of reality than you might think. You can actually watch trials, attend municipal council meetings, read the food inspector’s minutes from the pub inspections and take part in the pictures of suspected murder weapons in the police’s preliminary investigation. At least in most cases.
The principle of openness is part of the Freedom of the Press Ordinance, i.e. one of constitutions. It means that many documents that are drawn up by or submitted to an authority, and stored there, are free for anyone to take part in. It can be written documents, e-mail log lists, protocols, maps, audio tapes. If you want copies of documents, there is often a fee, and you may not be able to get them right away, but you have the right to view or listen to them. There are exceptions, some documents are classified with regard to, for example, national security. Some of the court proceedings are being held behind closed doors.
If you are working on a crime novel, there may be a point in reading the judgments of the past six months in cases similar to the one you describe, if your main character is a politician, you can get help from reading center-right motions or looking at the members of parliament’s travel bills. And it is not impossible that you find material for an entire novel by reading complaints to the General Complaints Board.
Directly from the state
As a book writer at Book Writing INC, If you are writing a book that takes place during the Second World War, it may be interesting to read notes on how the state reasoned about defense strategies and refugee reception during the years 1940-45, for example.
What was the main news on April 5, 1962?
Many of the university libraries have the opportunity to read old newspapers on microfilm, some as far back as the very first copy. Browsing through news articles and advertisements can provide many keys to an era. Which events are highlighted as significant? Which products are advertised and in what way? How was an engagement announcement formulated? Attitudes and the spirit of the times are hidden among headlines and photos, and in addition it provides an indispensable insight into address and language.
The Royal Library has begun digitizing all microfilm material, which means that most things will be searchable from home computers. This makes the whole thing much less cumbersome, but at the same time you miss the special experience of sitting in a yellow-brown light and cranking out another time. Inspiring in itself.
Visit the novel’s environments
If you want to describe a forest, it’s easy to get caught up in the obvious – tall pines, mossy rocks, green foliage and the sun playing in it. There is nothing wrong with those pictures, but they also do not give the reader something that it has not been beaten by itself.
Embark on the environments where your story takes place and soak up all the sensory impressions. What is really growing in that clearing? How does it feel to walk on a coniferous path? How would you describe the sound of torrential rain? Through accurate details, the text becomes more vivid and the reader can both recognize himself and be surprised. Try other environments in which your story or character moves – take the Finnish ferry, borrow a dog and go to the working dog club, go to the trotting track and invest money. What kind of treatment do you get? What invisible rules apply here? How does the jargon sound? Who is your character in this group? Record, take photos, tape!