Tips for Researching and Writing an Authentic Novel

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By Amy Clipston

I’ve written Amish fiction for more than ten years now, since I received my contract for my first book, A Gift of Grace, on Dec. 14, 2007. I decided to try to write Amish fiction after being inspired by a novel written by another Amish author. Since I grew up in New Jersey and had visited Amish country as a child, I wanted to learn more about the culture and try writing my own Amish books.

Now that my thirty-first Amish novel, A Seat by the Hearth, is scheduled to release today, I feel I’m almost an Amish culture expert. Notice I said, “almost.” I’ve found that there is always more to learn about the culture since I am not Amish.

I met an Amish woman who lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, through a dear friend. When I first met my Amish friend, I sat in her kitchen for two hours with a notebook and pen in my hand, nervous to ask her questions. Now, my Amish friend and I are close, and I call her frequently when I’m working on a book or when I just want to keep in touch. I leave her a message on her voice mail, and she calls me from back from her phone shanty. She patiently answers my questions when I ask her about her culture.

I’ve learned through the years that there are ways to keep my research fresh for my books. If you’re working on a book that is outside of your culture, here’s a list of tips to help you immerse yourself in a culture and keep your books authentic.

  1. Take a trip to the area where the book takes place

If you’re writing about Vermont and you live in Florida, take a trip to Vermont. When I visit Amish country, I like to go to my favorite stores and restaurants as well as give new ones a try.

  1. Talk to an expert

If you’re writing about the Native American culture, then try to find a Native American or an expert to talk to about your book. Ask for ideas for plots and share your plots with the expert. Ask the expert if your book is plausible or how to improve the story to make it more authentic.

  1. Keep in touch with your expert

As I mentioned above, I try to keep in touch with my Amish friend often. When we talk on the phone, we chat about our families, and I also ask her for her opinions about my plots. She has not only offered improvements, but also given me ideas for my stories. In fact, A Welcome at Our Door, the fourth and final book in my Homestead series, is based on a family story she shared with me. Your expert can help you improve your ideas and offer some insights that might inspire books.

  1. Experience the culture

If you are able to, try to visit a home or attend a worship service hosted by your cultural expert. I have not only visited Amish businesses and homes, but I have also attended an Amish church service at my friend’s home. If you’re not able to find an expert and experience the culture, you might also rely on books and articles published about the topic.

  1. Visit yearly or research from afar

If you’re able to, visit the area yearly and see if it has changed at all. I do my best to visit Amish country at least once a year. Every time I go there, I feel a sense of peace and I’m also inspired to start my next Amish fiction book.

I hope these tips inspire you to continue with your writing projects. Keep believing in your stories, and keep writing!

Immerse yourself in the culture in order to write the most authentic novel possible. @AmyClipston #ACFWBlogs #writing #research Click To Tweet

Amy Clipston is an award-winning and bestselling author and has sold more than a million books. She holds a degree in communication from Virginia Wesleyan University and works full-time for the City of Charlotte. Amy lives in North Carolina with her husband, mother, two sons, and three spoiled rotten cats.



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