Monthly Meeting: October 2023 – Fact or Fiction: Researching Your Story

Created November 03, 2023 by Laurent Sewell

Texas: Austin

At the October meeting, it was a real treat to hear author Suzanne Morgan Williams engage the audience with her storytelling, through which she delivered all her tricks of the trade for researching a well written story.

Author Suzanne Morgan Williams is the SCBWI Regional Advisor Emerita of Nevada and a former school teacher. Her young adult novels are SIERRA BLUE (Self-published, 2023) and the award-winning BULL RIDER (Simon & Schuster, 2010). She has also written nonfiction books on Native American, Mexican, and Chinese cultures, including INUIT (Franklin Watts, 2003), for which research took her to to live in the Canadian Arctic.

From picture books through young adult, be it fiction or nonfiction, Suzanne explained how to research, organize, and elevate a story.

Meeting Highlights:

-Ask yourself, “Why are you writing?” Always keep in mind the kids your story will impact

-Understand that as you write, the story will also have an affect on you, too

-“Get it right!” (do the research)

-Read, read, read

-Be very selective with your sources (authenticate)

-Fact check, vet, proofread

-With fiction, you can take some license

-Don’t include everything you know; curate and edit

-Keep a binder to organize sources; print out and keep any online information in case an that source is gone later

-Mark places in first drafts where research is needed

-Keep two drafts: use the second draft to record a citation for every fact, as you go; annotate each fact with the name of the person who verified it/primary source (unless the fact is common knowledge)

-For narrative nonfiction, authors may include some “must haves”/“you can imagine”/“if we had been there to see it”

-Use university syllabi to find basic texts to buy yourself and use for reference

-Cross reference multiple university syllabi on a subject (if the same text appears several times, then you know that is the basic/primary text to source information)

-Consider joining university libraries and interlibrary loan

-Ask experts to verify/authenticate details

-Before asking experts questions, know your subject matter

-At the end of an expert interview, ask: “What else should I know?; May I contact you later if I have more questions?; May I put you in the acknowledgements?; And how would you prefer to be listed?”

-Consider asking the aide or assistant rather than the top expert, so you have a chance to be connected with the person most likely to want to answer your questions and provide the best information

-Visit sites: take in the setting; get the lay of the land; note sensory details (ie. the scents on a ranch, or the feeling of arctic air)

-Take photos on site for reference 

-Provide site photos to the illustrator for reference

-Let the story evolve as more research is done 

-Use research for fictional world-building

-Great sources: eyewitnesses, professional researchers, advocates, historians, locals

See more insightful tips on Suzanne Williams' website!