The Productive Writer-Seven Ways to Make the Most of Fiction Research Time


When I was in college, I had to do a lot of research for school papers. Because I had to write one every week, and because I had a lot of those papers to write, I learned to do it efficiently. Now that I am starting to research my next book in the Locket Saga, I am using what I learned back in college to make the most of my researching time. Here are a few ways that I do that.

Use Your Research Time Effectively

  1. I research as specific a subject as possible. For instance, in the latest work that I am researching for Two Rivers, I have Andrew going south on the Mississippi River on a flatboat. Because I learned somewhere that the word millionaire was first coined in Natchez, Mississippi, I thought that I would check out that city as Andrew’s destination rather than New Orleans which I knew was also a port of call. But Natchez, Mississippi still wasn’t specific enough. Not only did I need to limit the city of choice, but I needed to limit the time period on or before 1803-1806. So I limited my research about Natchez Mississippi to the time period of prior to 1806.
  2. I do Macro-research before Micro-research. Macro research is a term that I created meaning general research about a specific topic. For instance, when I googled Natchez and looked at the history of Natchez before 1806, I learned that Natchez was named after the Natchez Indians, that it was first ruled by France and then by Spain and then transferred to the Americans in 1798. Well to do society built a town up on the bluff, but the men who ran the riverboats worked along the river in the rough part of town called ‘Natchez-Under-The-Hill. When a flatboat docked, the river men aboard would find entertainment at the taverns and brothels set up along the river. I learned that when they docked in Natchez, the men sold their boats and walked north along a dangerous tract called the Natchez Trace.
  3. I use Macro-research to discover what Micro-research I need to examine. Based on this general information, I looked deeper into Natchez-under the Hill and Natchez Trace. I learned that certain highway men frequented the area. One I discovered started after my story began so I didn’t include him in my story, however, another one—Samuel Mason– had led a gang of river pirates during this period so I examined his story more deeply. I discovered however that his story actually ends shortly before my book begins, but I am going to include it anyway because it is such an interesting aspect of river-boating.
  4. Next, I determine where in the story the research will be used. One of the reasons that I find that I have to outline my books has to do with the fact that I plug research into specific parts of the story. Because I have a general outline written and have the book divided into chapters, I am able to plug the research into a specific part of the book. This way I don’t have to go through a bunch of notes to find the information that I need. I have already included it.
  5. In addition to plugging the information into the book to be edited later, I post the information into another document specifically about that subject. Since I have already researched the material, it is easy to reuse that research. For instance, when I was writing A Coward’s Solace, the information that I wrote about Lucy Flucker Knox I made into an article on Hubpages Check that article out here: An Unsung Heroine: Lucy Flucker Knox.  Here’s another one I did about The Boston Massacre:  The Boston Massacre—Powder keg of the American Revolution  Including your research in online articles improves your credibility in facts relating to your novel’s subject matter.
  6. I personally have not yet done this tip, but I have known several people who have done this. They use the same research used in their fiction and write a nonfiction book with the same information. Currently, I include a section in the back of my novels called Separating Fact from Fiction which explains the true story behind my fiction. I started doing this after someone criticized my first book by saying that “some of the women were too modern” and that “cocoa did not exist in Colonial America”. The criticism about the modern women revolved around Mrs. Hiller who was a real person but fictionalized. (She really did all the things I wrote about) and though cocoa back then was not “ditched” as it is today, it did exist, but it was brewed like coffee and was much more.
  7. I also save research discoveries for future books. Sometimes I’ll come across information that I hope to use in a future story. For instance, when researching Natchez, I learned some of the story about the first steamboat trip that occurred in 1812 that went from Pittsburgh, PA to Natchez, MS. I was going to have Andrew meet the love of his life during Two Rivers, but decided that I couldn’t pass up this information. It connects so well with other aspects of the Locket Saga especially the Natchez Pittsburgh connection.

Be specific with your research, use macro-research to determine micro-research, plug research into the story immediately to save time, and utilize your research in more than just your fiction to make the most of the time you spend researching your next book.

IMG_8330 final copy

As Author Cygnet Brown, Donna Brown  has  published  several nonfiction books including Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener, Using Diatomaceous Earth around the House and Yard, and Help from Kelp.

She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. which includes When God Turned His Head and Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, and, A Coward’s Solace, Book III of the Locket Saga,  Book IV of the Locket Saga: Sailing Under the Black Flag is also on sale now!

.For more information about Cygnet Brown and buy her books, check out her website at .

  1. All good suggestions! I rarely do research for my fiction. I usually write about cities I’ve lived in. I guess you could call me a lazy researcher/writer. LOL

    • 1authorcygnetbrown said:

      I love research almost as much as I enjoy writing! its like going to an archeological dig. What I find is often amazing!

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