Research For Novel Writing – Use the Internet


How big a part should the internet play in a novelist’s research? My mind is immediately drawn to a quote from Dan Brown’s novel “The Lost Symbol”. How often, muses Robert Langdon to himself, has he advised his students that “Google is not a synonym for research”. I couldn’t help laughing at the sly irony of that. For I defy anyone to read this novel without wondering how long the author spent on Google researching his subject matter; and how soon you will get onto Google yourself after reading it, to corroborate his facts – or to fall into the very trap Robert Langdon warns against!

I confess the internet has been a wonderful resource for me as a fiction writer in double-checking my remembered facts. But of course we should never assume whatever we read on the web is necessarily true. It is important to at least triple-check. iescort But when it comes to writing fiction, I believe most authors will have chosen their subject or theme out of passion – and therefore he or she will have spent a considerable portion of their life researching the subject through multifarious means – personal experience, observing and interacting with people, reading all sorts of printed material about it, visiting places, maybe even living out some of the things they depict their characters doing…

Therefore the internet is a valuable tool, but cannot serve as the sole source of material when researching a novel.

I may take as an example the Cotswolds location for my first published psychological thriller. I was inspired by three places. Firstly Totleigh Barton at Sheepwash, near Beauworthy in Devon where I once attended a five day Arvon Foundation poetry course: it boasted a monk’s room, as does the farmhouse in my novel. Also the diverse group of students on the course inspired me for the group dynamics of my story. Secondly my imagination was fired by the Lygon Arms Hotel in Broadway in the Cotswolds, a wonderful setting for a psychological thriller. My favourite piece of research involved afternoon tea there. The manager took us for a tour of the most historical rooms in the hotel including the Cromwell Room. The owners of the inn were neutral during the English Civil War and thus hosted guests on both sides of the conflict. I used some of the details of the interiors here in my descriptions of the sixteenth century farmhouse. And thirdly, for my setting, although I ultimately chose the Cotswolds as my favoured location, I was also inspired by a farmhouse near the Forest of Orleans in France owned by the eccentric uncle of my then boyfriend. We visited his uncle there several years ago. This uncle (now deceased) was a colourful character who had fought on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War, spent a few years in jail after the war ended, and later fled to Paris after dealing in contraband. When I met him, he displayed a love of practical jokes, leaving plastic rats and spiders for me to find in odd corners. He also owned a parrot, which I came upon by surprise in his sitting room, exactly as I describe my main character coming upon the gold and blue macaw in my novel.

I hope all this will serve to illustrate how every aspect of your life can be regarded as research for your novel. Life itself is one long process of research. Bad experiences and good, failures and humiliations… nothing is wasted, or lost. Surely this is the ultimate recycling! – it is certainly one of the things I most love about fiction writing.

S.C. Skillman is the author of mystery romance novel “Mystical Circles” in which Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of a dubious New Age spiritual group, sets off for the Cotswolds to see the situation for herself. She arrives at Craig’s community hoping to rescue Zoe. But intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle and, despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love… with completely unforeseen consequences.

Mystical Circles is now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle. Find out more by visiting the author’s blog


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