Make it an Adventure
I love figuring out where a book is going to be set - whether it's a generic Anywhere, USA feel or a specific city, like NYC. But it can be daunting if you want to set the story somewhere you've never been. I'm not the richest person, so I only travel a couple times a year, but when I can, I like to turn my research into an adventure. I like to visit the city I've chosen, explore the streets, figure out the layout, chat with the locals. Just like a vacation, this part of research can be super fun!
But what if you can't afford to travel? Plan your trip anyway. Order brochures, go on trip planning sites, try to get in contact with locals by using sites like city-data.com. Look at google maps to figure out the streets. Look at Yelp reviews to see the places people like to go. Watch the weather patterns of the area online. There are lots of ways to give you a good sense of the locale, and who knows? You might end up planning out your next vacation in the process.
What Is Your Character's Passion?
Inevitably, some of your characters will have different interests from you, and sometimes learning about those interests can be a challenge if they're out of your comfort zone. I always try to start from a central point and branch out as a way of easing myself into a new subject my character might be a genius on.
Here's an example: Let's say your character is obsessed with daytime soap operas. Easy way to begin is to read the wikipedia entry on "soap operas." Then maybe you read all the connecting entries on shows like All My Children or Days of Our Lives. Then maybe you watch a few YouTube clips from those shows. You don't have to become the world's leading expert on the soaps, but this is a great way to get a good working knowledge of the subject. Just enough to really fill out your character. It also makes research less overwhelming to start in a simple place and then branch out from there as opposed to trying to research everything at once.
This is probably one of the best tips anyone has ever given me about research. The best sources are always first hand, so asking questions of a real person can be really helpful. I've read a million articles on PTSD for Goldfish, but the most useful sources were talking to psychologists or people who've actually struggled with PTSD.
Finding people to ask might be the challenge. It's easy to start in your circles - do any of your friends or critique partners have expertise on the subject you're researching? Do they know someone who is and who might be able to help? One of my best resources for researching my last project was the father of a girl I went to college with. You don't have to reach out to complete strangers if you don't want to. You'd be shocked how many great sources of info are within your social circle - you just have to ask.
So next time you're researching a new project, don't let it overwhelm you. There are lots of different, fun ways to deal with research, and in the end, it'll make your book really come to life!
But now I want to know - how do you research your projects? Do you have a specific process? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!