The first step when you begin a new writing project, is background research. This is the process of mapping out a particular subject area to gain an overview and understanding of the subject. It helps you become familiar with the vocabulary relating to the topic and narrow the focus.
Begin by studying materials that are introductory by nature. Different kinds of reference works and textbooks, both in print and online. Textbooks should probably be your first port of call. They have an educational agenda and help you learn new things. Different types of reference works can also be helpful. Encyclopaedias are a good source, and many can be accessed today on-line.
If you are doing historical research, use chronicles and chronologies. They present timelines of events, people and places in specific contexts. Atlases help you understand your area’s geographical contexts. As well as maps, some include information of the climate, economy, population and even statistics. You will find textbooks and reference works either in libraries or on the internet. Wikipedia is very helpful or Infoplease (www.infoplease.com), and there are many others.
As you immerse yourself in research, keep a record of the texts you’ve read and any useful facts you discover. When I began writing my bestseller “The Pomegranate Pendant” (now a movie “The Golden Pomegranate”) I was completely ignorant of my subject matter which was the first immigration of Yemenite Jews to Israel in the 19th century. As well as extensive reading, I visited the Israel Museum’s Ethnography Department to study how the Yemenite silversmiths made their beautiful filigree jewellery. I ate in a Yemenite restaurant called “The Yemenite Step” to study their food, and copied down all the menus; I listened to records of Yemenite singers; and finally asked friends to introduce me to any Yemenites whom they knew. I did 6 months’ research until I felt I knew my subject intimately before I wrote my first word. Of my 14 novels, this was the first and is still selling well today all over the world, in different languages. After 6 months of intense research, I felt completely sure of my facts and my characters came alive on the page with no effort. This was really the only time I undertook a subject I knew almost nothing about, at the request of the publisher, who gave me a generous advance to write it, as it was of special interest to him. But whenever you write, even if it’s fiction, make sure all your facts are true, your settings authentic, your dialogue the way people spoke at the time. It is a bonus when your work is not only enjoyable, but also educational. Happy writing!
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