Doing Your Research: Some Tips for Writing ‘Faction’ 0 Comments

Doing Your Research: Some Tips for Writing ‘Faction’

If you’re anything like me and plot isn’t your strong suit, there are lots of advantages to writing fiction from research. Fact-based fiction (or “faction”) takes research as a starting point to tackle real-life events, using traditional elements of fiction like character, dialogue, setting, and imagery.

For the past year, I’ve been working on a collection of true crime inspired short stories. Research has been a huge part of my process—almost as important as the writing itself. Here are some of the steps I’ve followed to get in the mindset for writing faction:


1. Get inspired

MyraThe initial inspiration for my collection was this iconic mug shot of serial killer Myra Hindley. It got me thinking about crime and femininity, until I couldn’t leave the subject alone. Photographs, news stories, and even historical footnotes can all make excellent sources of inspiration. It’s all about finding something that strikes a chord with you.

2. Google it

We’re lucky to live in a time where information is so easy to obtain. Google is the most obvious place to start if you’re looking for general information, but is also indispensable when it comes to specifics. If you want to know what kind of flowers grow in Oklahoma or what the weather was like the day Hitler was born, the details are probably out there. One of my favorite tools is the street view function of Google Maps, since it’s an easy way to get a feel for the landscapes of unfamiliar places.

3. Read all the books
Having done your preliminary research online, you should hopefully have an idea of what’s been written about your subject so far. Now is the time to read as much as you can. I usually start with the most popular book on my subject that I can find and branch out from there, if I need to. If you can’t find a book on your particular subject, chapters in other books or more general books about the historical period/ setting can be useful. If you’ve got access to a uni library catalogue or JSTOR, you can also try wading through some more academic stuff.

4. Pick your facts

Now that you’ve got the facts, you can throw most of them away. Exact dates don’t matter much unless they figure in your work, and you can always check those later. One of the things I love most about reading true crime is the way certain contingent details stick—the color of a victim’s coat, the killer’s brand of cigarettes, what they were doing on the day they were arrested. Note down anything that seems strange, funny, or beautiful to you. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to use it somewhere.

5. Invest in your characters’ world

This part isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s something I like to do in my non-writing time. I’ll watch movies, read novels, listen to music, and even wear fashion that my characters were known to like, or that was around during their time. While writing about the Manson family, for instance, I wore flares and listened to The Beatles’ White Album. I find this is a good way to get closer to my characters’ world and influence my thoughts, subconsciously.


Faction Recommendations
Don’t know where to start? These are some of my faction favorites:

Laura Elizabeth Woollett (24) is the author of The Wood of Suicides. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, The Love of a Bad Man. Find her here.

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