When you’ve decided where or what your world will be, then choose the landscape that you want to highlight, blend, or contrast.
1. At a second-hand bookstore pickup a natural history guide that matches your choice. Choose one that details the entire habitat, as well as the weather patterns common to that area.
2. Mix and match for effect. Take San Francisco as a city and place it in the Mohave Desert, or the Swiss Mountains, or an island off the coast of Italy. What changes does that make?
First look for the broad strokes of your world to give authenticity in general. When you sweep read, write down those odd gleanings as they pop up. Keep a separate list for them. Maybe a particular interest won’t work for the first or second novel, but is perfect for the third.
Then for the personal up-close details, dig deeper for unique specifics. Find out what is the unique bird or animal or flower? Why? What legend does it have behind it? Can it be adapted as a theme or symbol? Choose a feature under which to track it and set up in your filing system.
1. Decide how to set up your background as you go. Will it be a separate ‘book’ matching the novel chapter by chapter? Or location by location?
2. Keep a diary of where the major incidents happen. As we’ll see later on they have the potential to become echoes within your own world.
3. Also mark the references when you use library material, especially borrowed.
4. Set goals and time management for your research as well as your writing, so the writing gets your priority.
5. Set the research schedule to work alongside the writing so you don’t have to change thought tracks. For example, you know that a few scenes ahead your villain will sabotage your protagonist on a train. A week or two before take a few hours to sweep read about trains for the era or decade or even year. Jot down the most interesting possibilities. A few days later choose a few and do some detailed research on the workings and their weaknesses. Let it all simmer.
When you get to the scene write without looking at your notes. Then a few days later, check the particular sabotage. What’s still missing? Make a list and on your next research night look it up. Mark the manuscript with the new possibility for later revision.
Share a reference tip that has helped keep you on track, or one that became a hindrance.