Is anyone watching? No? I glance nervously over my own shoulder to make sure no eyes are on my laptop. I’m about to google something horrifying. I’ve even opened the incognito browser to make sure no one knows what I’m doing. Here’s the problem. I need to know the most effective way to get rid of a body for a dystopian novel I’m writing and I know nothing about that. I’m ready to see the most gruesome google images I’ve ever laid my eyes upon, but here I go. All for the sake of being a writer, or something.
Why should I research my novel?
Well, if my intro paragraph wasn’t clear enough, you want to research your novel to avoid cultural slip ups. You want your novel to be as readable for one group of your audience as another. Don’t exclude your POC, women, and LGBT readers from your work just because you didn’t do enough research. If you don’t care about the feelings of your readers, at least do it for your own profitability. The Twitter writing community is vicious, and if they read your book only to find it highly offensive, they will let the entire internet know about it. Be kind to your fellow man and yourself by asking readers who fall into a category you’re writing about to edit your book. Have a Black main character? Find a Black reviewer. The same goes for every other group.
Sensitivity aside, research will make your fantasy, crime, and science fiction novels shine. Nothing makes readers happier than to see fantasy and science fiction worldbuilding that actually works. Are we perfect? No. Can we see into the future? No, but if your novel is based in any reality that’s similar to ours, you can bet your bottom dollar that you can use our rules and science to make your world seem all the more real. Immersion is the best way to keep your reader in your story for as long as possible, and your readers will thank you for it.
Research can be one of the best parts of writing a novel. If you’re writing something extensive, like science fiction or crime, your research is going to take you a lot longer. Be sure to budget this research time into your schedule so you’re not overwhelmed. Buy yourself a nice notebook (us writers love notebooks, don’t we?) that’s specifically for your research. It’ll make you feel good about writing in it and doing the work. Stay organized by using highlighters, sticky notes, and sections. The easier it is for you to go through your research, the happier you’ll be.
If you need help researching a specific topic, ask someone who may know about that topic. Reach out to science communities on social media platforms or at your local university. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction because they love that topic as much as you do. Remember, you wouldn’t write a paper for school on a subject you didn’t know without researching first, so why would writing a novel be any different?
Do you have a pretty research notebook you’d like to show off? I’d love to see it! Send me your organization tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment your favorite research or organizational tips below!
Where do I include ambiance?
I find that the best time to include ambiance is in a longer period of breath before an intense action scene. This is the downtime your characters take to recover from near-death moments in your plot. These breathing points in my stories prevent the action from feeling too rushed and keep the readers on their toes. By taking a break and describing a little bit of the ambiance through writing, the readers get time to refresh and reset in the story. Then, by clueing the readers into the rest of the ambiance through action and character dialogue, I can direct where I want their imaginative mind to go. My readers get to experience the magic of readinggggg. When a wolf jumps from the brush and attacks a character from behind, my readers are totally in shock (surprise!). The ambiance is best not used in scenes of high tension. If someone is being attacked, they most likely do not have time to use their senses to check out the plant life in the area. Their focus will shift to the details that matter, like the face of their attacker or the armor that their assailant is wearing. Use ambiance and action alternately, not together.
How can I stop myself from overusing ambiance?
Ambiance can also be overused when characters reach locations that do not matter. If my band of fantasy warriors comes back from their mountain fight and visit a tavern to get a hearty meal, should I describe the inside of this tavern in detail? To get to the answer, we ask another question. Are my characters coming back to this location later in the novel? If the venue is of importance, describe it. If they are never going to see it again, it may be a waste of time. No one wants to sit through paragraph after paragraph of boring exposition. Again, your characters are not going to notice or see everything. If a character can’t see it, don’t describe it. If your character wouldn’t think that x detail is important, don’t describe it. If the detail doesn’t add to the current mood of the situation, don’t describe it. While this may bring down the word count of your novel, it’s better to keep your audience engaged than it is to flesh out your world via lengthy and unnecessary exposition.
All in all, ambiance is a powerful tool that I love to employ. It helps me enjoy visiting new places in real life by taking notes and photographs, sitting in the space, and appreciating nature. By writing ambiance in my stories, it forces me to be more critical and observational. It is also a good lesson on reservation. It’s hard when you’ve poured so much into a fantasy world you love to not describe every tree, rock, and stray animal. By allowing the reader to build the world in their mind with the help of your direction, it creates a much more satisfying experience for everyone involved. You’re playing with your reader, and don’t forget that! If I’m going to be writing a story in an environment I’m not accustomed to, sometimes I plan trips just to go and experience it firsthand. Who doesn’t love a good vacation? We’re writers! If anyone needs to get out of the house more, it’s us. Drawing from experience is not only enjoyable, but you’ll build more realistic worlds for your readers. I instantly revisit the places I’ve been when I’m writing, the feelings I felt at the moment, who I was with. Writing becomes just as much of a time-traveling experience as one of craft at that moment, and that is exactly what ambiance is about.