With research, you look for more than just the craft rules. Those include the setting your story takes place, the laws of that society, and much more.
While I have researched common things like how detention works in schools, one thing I needed to learn more about involved a minor backstory error in both the first and second installments of my novels.
However, I am resolving it by adding a twist to that mistake in the third book. It will reveal how that incorrect statement had been false the whole time.
If you can’t find anything relevant to the research needed for your project, sometimes it is best to ask someone who is an expertise in that specific field. Just give him or her enough information about your project as well as your question. I did that for the little error I made in my books due to not performing careful research on it.
You can also join writing forums for help, as well. The one I participate in when I have questions has a research section. That is where I asked about things I had to know, and would be harder to seek through Google.
That is also where I found out how detention works in schools, since in my series’ second installment, my main character lands in it. However, I never got detention in school, which is obviously a good thing. But I still received useful answers.
Another topic I needed to learn more about was how much stress it would take for somebody to end up in shock. Unlike the detention subject, though, this element did not make it into my first book, where it was intended to go.
While the Internet may be there 24/7 (for the most part), you can always ask real people for research questions whether it’s one person or on a forum.
Ah, characters: you’ve got to love or hate them—or have some
opinion on them. They also shouldn’t be perfect. The hero should do wrong
things and get disliked at times and the villain should get liked at times.
However, this is super-difficult—at least for me it is. I
have a tendency to protect my main character in my novels. I like her a lot. I
feel sorry for her. And because of those, I tend to make her hardly flawed. At
most, she may do a few wrong things
and at milder levels. The worst she has done in my book series was unauthorized
filming and lying about not doing it. That’s actually a serious offense.
Anyway, I’m probably not the only writer who has trouble making certain characters flawed. Of course, there are characters who are unfriendly, but not evil. And obviously, there is conflict in my stories. But I think I know why I have difficulty getting my protagonist to misbehave.
One: it wasn’t until the plot of my first book’s first
edition was nearly complete when I found out that protagonists should behave
badly or do wrong things. When rewriting my first book after removing it from
the market, I couldn’t make my main character more flawed as the major elements
had already been established. Two: I have recently become very uncomfortable
around conflict. Not just in real life, but also in fiction. Yes, I have
stopped certain books and movies because I loathed how the characters were being
treated. Now while writing my third book, I have no plans to make my MC do
really bad things. Yes, she won’t be perfect. In fact, she will have trouble controlling
her emotions. But I will stop there on that.
Writers fall in love with their heroes. They become attached
to them. So they may have trouble making them behave badly. However, someone
told me that the best books have characters who misbehave a lot.
Now if you’re creating children’s stories, there are limits
to how badly the characters can act. Of course, it would be acceptable (and would
probably engage readers) if the protagonists started food fights at school, got
sent to the principals’ offices, and were punished by their parents. However,
you could not have them do something that would be inappropriate. Not just
drugs or drinking, but also activities that could lead to death or serious
injuries. Otherwise, parents won’t want their kids reading your books.
Do you notice that lack of perfectly behaved characters in
fiction? Most likely. And that’s because people want flawed characters. In
fact, sometimes that’s essential to the storylines.
I’ll give a few examples from Disney movies. In The Lion King, when Simba talks to Scar about that shadowed area that his father forbade him to go, Scar says that only the bravest lions would enter. “Brave” is the big, main keyword. That was what encouraged Simba to check it out, and, of course, that led to conflict crucial for the plot. If Scar had said that only the dumbest lions would go there, Simba might not have gone because he wouldn’t have said, “Well, I’m dumb.” He was in too good of a mood to say such a thing. And then, there would have been a lot less conflict. And without enough conflict, the story would’ve been dull, and the film would’ve drastically failed—or maybe not have even been green-lit.
In Beauty and the Beast,
after the beast releases Belle from the dungeon tower, he leads her up to her
new room and says that she can go anywhere, except the forbidden west wing. Later
Belle is curious about the west wing and enters it, discovering the enchanted
rose and the portrait of the beast when he was a person. The beast catches her
and forces her out.
At the end, when the beast transforms back into a human,
Belle recognizes him from the painting. Then they live happily ever after.
If Belle had listened to the beast, or the beast had not
prohibited her from going to the west wing, then the ending might’ve resulted
in the prince re-explaining how he’d become a beast. Or—he might not have
changed into a better character. Therefore, Belle wouldn’t loved him, and he
would’ve failed to break the spell he and the servants had gone under.
So there you have it. Notice the pattern in both examples? Let
that help you.