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Creative Writing: Background Research for Creative Writing


While the plot of fiction writing may be made up, the story's setting and details should ring true to the reader. For example, if your novel is set in 18th century China, you will want to include details that are accurate to that time period and location (if historical fiction is your goal). Perhaps one of your characters is in the military; it can be helpful to understand that particular branch and the common experiences of someone in that role. If you are writing a scene about a chef in a fancy restaurant, you will want to know how such a kitchen is run.  These types of details make your writing authentic and interesting.  Plus, a reader who knows about each of those examples will be the first to point out any inaccuracies. Background research can improve your understanding of a time, place, event, or group of people. 

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Resources for Background Research

Encyclopedias and other reference sources such as handbooks, atlases, are excellent sources of background information. They provide unbiased, fact based overviews of different topics, time periods, locations, people, and more. These sources can lead you to additional sources of information as well. The SCC Library provides access to many different digital reference databases covering a wide range of topics. 

View a complete listing of the SCC Library Databases by Subject.

Newspaper and magazine articles can also be helpful when researching current events or important historical events. Some magazine and newspaper articles provide in-depth reporting of a topic, which is helpful for building background knowledge.

View a complete listing of the SCC Library Databases by Subject.

Check out these databases to learn more about the topics you are writing about.

View a complete listing of the SCC Library Databases by Subject.

Looking at maps can help you write about a specific city or get a feel for how the locals may live. Historical maps can be helpful for seeing a city in a different time period. Check out the website for a specific city's historical society to see what maps they make available online.

Diversity and representation is so important in fiction writing, but it needs to be done properly to avoid stereotypes and cultural appropriation. There is a lot to consider and to research before writing about an underrepresented community of which you are not a part.

Getting the right language and words of a time period, region, or age group is so important! Reading primary sources like letters, diaries, or news articles from a time period or region can help you craft realistic dialogue. 

Your characters should be dressed for the time period and location of your story.  Look at images online and research appropriate clothing for your story.  

New to Online Research? Check out these Resources!