Frequently Asked Questions

I was reading through the George R.R. Martin FAQ page and found this:

Q: How do you research your novels?

A: The Internet is a wonderful tool, and I am using it more and more as time goes by, but I still do most of my research the old-fashioned way, with books.

I use a “total immersion” method. Since I do not know going what particular nuggets I may need during the course of writing a novel, I try to learn as much as possible about the subject in question (the medieval world, in the case of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, or the antebellum river and the steamboat era in the case of FEVRE DREAM) by reading everything I can get my hands on.

Some particular books I found useful for A GAME OF THRONES and its sequels deserve mention. For anything military, one good place to start is with the Osprey series of illustrated reference books. They are primarily intended for gamers and miniaturists, but they give an excellent overview of the periods and campaigns they cover… and they’re inexpensive as well, generally running only $12 to $14 a volume.

Some other good stuff can be found in:

THE MEDIEVAL SOLDIER Gerry Embleton & John Howe

A DISTANT MIRROR Barbara Tuchman

MEDIEVAL SWORDMANSHIP John Clements

THE MEDIEVAL WARFARE SOURCE BOOK David Nicolle

LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CASTLE and LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CITY, both by Joseph and Frances Gies

THE DICTIONARY OF HERALDRY by Joseph Foster

TOURNAMENTS by Richard Barber & Juliet Barker

GREAT CITIES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD by L. Sprague de Camp

THE CHRONICLES OF ENGLAND, FRANCE, SPAIN, AND OTHER PLACES ADJOINING by Sir Jean Froissart

Those are just the tip of the iceberg. There are also specialized books that focus on things like Fools and Jesters, Medieval Feasts, the Knights Templar, and the history of the Hundred Years War or the Wars of the Roses. A writer cannot do too much research, though sometimes it is a mistake to try and cram too much of what you learned into your novel. Research gives you a foundation to build on, but in the end it’s only the story that matters.

I also found these articles that might be useful:
How to Do Research for Your Novel by Evan Marshall
How To Research Your Novel by Scott Francis

One of my biggest problems is getting distracted by my research, I spend all my time looking up stuff on the Internet and I don’t get any writing done. A technique I am beginning to use is to write down a Research Topic List for a Project. For Example:

Project: Metamorphosis
Research Topics:

  • Blood cancer
  • what to do when someone is suffering a heart attack
  • hospital layout
  • out patient procedures for people diagnosed with cancer

And I’ll write down as many things as I can think of, then get back to my Novel Outline Template and research it later, that way I’m not getting distracted and I can come back to it when I need to. What techniques do you use to gather research for your Writing Projects? What areas do you enjoy looking into? Let me know in the comments section.

2 comments

  1. I do have a tendency to gather more research than I need. Then I feel like I’ve wasted too much time researching when I should have been writing. But as he said, it gives you a foundation to build on. No more guilt 😉

    • Thanks so much for commenting. However, I am relieved that I’m not the only one who spends too much time researching. Procrastination, My one weakness! 🙂

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