The lovely Lisa (I always call her love because she is – plus, I like alliterations) asked me how I know so much about gangs and drug dealers, etc. Do I make it up or research it?
I research it.
I like my novels to have elements of believability and those elements come from research. Even The Reset (which I love dearly!), a fantasy-ish novel, had real settings.
Stone Cross Manor? It’s real.
Dave’s Ice Cream? It’s real.
Silas Vealy’s house? It’s real.
That one restaurant January and Alias ate at? It’s real. They even ate food off the real menu for the same prices you’d get were you to eat there today.
I’ve always enjoyed reading novels that take place somewhere I can go to. King Arthur legends captivated me so much because they based it off of reality (the greatest stories have some elements of truth – this is the core of all my novels) and incorporated a somewhat believable legend for the readers to fantasize over.
So here’s a step-by-step (more or less) walk through my mental path of researching. xD It’ll be on gangs and all that good stuff.
Step 1: Figure out what it is you’re researching.
This is the biggest problem for a lot of people. You want to do something awesome, but don’t know how to start! Following my cartel/gang/mob example, I’ll start off by seeing if there’s a difference between the three. All are defined by Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, unless otherwise noted.
- Cartel: group of businesses that agree to fix prices so they all will make more money
- Gang:: a group of criminals: a group of young people who do illegal things together and who often fight against other gangs
- Mob: a secret organized group of criminals
So we know that a cartel isn’t much for our purposes. So, let’s try “drug cartel.”
- Drug Cartel (defined by The Free Dictionary): an illicit cartel formed to control the production and distribution of narcotic drugs
If I don’t know what some of those words mean, I’ll look ’em up (“define [insert word/s]” is how I search for terms).
At this point, we’ve seen that there are a few slight differences in the wording between a gang and a mob, but these people basically do the same things: illegal things. A drug cartel is something a bit different though. While a drug cartel might be a mob or a gang, a gang or a mob might not necessarily be a drug cartel.
This is where you’ll want to get your facts and terms straight.
For the sake of this exercise, I’ll choose to research more on a mob.
Step 2: Research more about what you’re researching about.
Now we know we want to research a mob. What mob do we want to go with? I like specific names and labels in my novels for personal purposes. It helps me get more specific. If I wasn’t specific, I might say something like the mafia specialized in making bombs. See what I mean? I like to know as much as I can about something before I write about it. While one mob might just hijack cars, another one might murder. Big difference.
So now I’ll Google: mob.
They say Wikipedia isn’t a great source, but believe me guys: it is. It’s statistically more accurate than Britannica. I’m not saying head to Wikipedia for school, but for general facts, it’s fantastic. Once you know the basics, then you can go to more specific sites.
For instance, I looked up water boarding on Wikipedia, and once I knew what it was and the different types, I researched for a more specific site and found one for the sole purpose of educating people on what water boarding was and how to do it and the history of it. It was fantastic.
To get back on point: there’s a box of contents on Wikipedia’s Mob page, and one says “In Criminals.” I’ll head there. Now there’s a list:
Research those (organized crime is probably your best bet for general info). Under Organized Crime, I find the Irish Mob, get excited and research it.
Step 3: Know the logistics.
You’ll find on the Irish Mob’s page the criminal activities they engage in:
- Drug Trafficking
So if you’re writing a novel on human trafficking, the Irish Mob probably isn’t what you’re looking for. In that case, you’d research something like, “human trafficking mob” or something like that.
Step 4: Research the details.
Now you’ll research more on the Irish Mob if they fit the bill. Figure out where they hang out (states/cities) and plan your novel around that.
My newest novel, Homecoming, is about a girl whose parents are murdered while she’s at her homecoming dance. She’s kidnapped so the drug lord can figure out where the evidence her mom had put together to get the individual members of the mob put in jail is and destroy it.
The story is set in Boston, MA because that’s where a lot of the Irish Mob people live. This may affect the way the MC talks, lives. The weather would definitely have an impact on the story. Homecomings are normally in September or October (yes, I researched that as well). So it’d be pretty chilly.
I hope y’all can see where I’m going with all that. xD
The next part of this will be on what information to include in your novel after having done the research. 🙂