Writing Elements: Editing

Editing

Disclaimer: I’m not the best at editing my writing because I’m a perfectionist that never finishes anything. However, as part of my creative writing degree, I had to edit the work I did, so these are a few tips I’ve done whilst completing my degree, or I’ve heard and would like to pass on.

By some miracle, you’ve reached the end of your first* draft and you’re ready to start editing it. Congratulations! You’ve managed to get further than a lot of people, myself included.

*Or whatever number draft you’re on.

Firstly, take a break. Editing immediately after you’ve finished writing is a terrible idea, because the story is still fresh in your mind, as are the characters, so you might not edit it as thoroughly as when you take a break. Don’t touch it for at least a month, longer if you can.

Secondly, choose whether to print it out, write notes in a notebook, change how the document looks like or another method. It will help give a fresh perspective to your story since you’re either changing it in someway or you’re making notes as you go along.

Thirdly, try and get feedback. Choose a beta reader, a trusted friend, or even workshop it in a writing group. Receiving feedback can help you figure out what’s working and what’s not and you’ll improve the story/characters as a result.

However, as was a very helpful tip I received, any feedback you do receive is subjective, meaning you don’t have to listen to it or take it on board. Go into the criticism with an open mind, then choose honestly which pieces apply to your story.

Lastly, and most importantly, the best way to edit a story is to redraft it. Because while you’re retyping what you’ve already done, you’ll see areas that need improvement or removing. It’s like retelling a story to a friend, but as you’re telling it, you remember details you forgot to include last time, or some details have changed.

Even though it’s one of the last steps, it requires as much dedication as the rest of the writing process. It’d be like running a marathon but deciding to give up when you can see the finish line. When you’re so close to finishing, you might as well finish it properly. That might mean asking for assistance, which might require a fee, but surely it’s worth finishing the race when you’ve come this far?

Editing is a crucial part to writing. Don’t neglect it.

What is your editing method?

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Writing Elements: Narrative Structure

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Narrative structure is essentially the plot, and is tied as one of the most important writing elements. Without the narrative, you don’t have a story. As a good analogy, it’d be like creating Sims but not actually playing them (which is perfectly valid too).

There are five stages to a general plot:

Exposition

This is where we learn about who the protagonist is. From the relationships they have, or don’t have, to the routine they do on a daily basis, this is all important for setting up where we are and whose perspective we’re in.

Inciting Incident

This is where the protagonist’s normal routine is disrupted by an incident that changes it in some life altering way. Whether it’s a new colleague or an attack happens at school, the inciting incident has to incite a change in the character so they want to do something about what’s happened. Perhaps they want to discover what this new colleague is really up to, or perhaps they want to prevent further attacks from happening to their school.

Mid Point

This is where the action has been building towards, but it’s not quite the main battle yet. There have been many obstacles in the way that have led to the protagonist nearly giving up a few times, but something happens to keep them going. It has to lead to a point where they do either nearly give up or do actually give up, then something ignites in them to carry on.

Climax

This is the all or nothing scenario. The whole story has been leading to this moment between the protagonist and the antagonist. The moment where the two opposing forces clash and they’ve changed from how they started the story. Whether the protagonist has foiled the antagonist or the antagonist has defeated the protagonist in some way, this is revealed in this moment.

Resolution

Depending how you end your story, the resolution will usually wrap up what’s happened. It’ll usually give us the consequences of the protagonist and antagonist’s actions. We might see what or who they lost or gained.

However, these five elements are shown in a linear narrative, i.e. a narrative that is told chronologically from start to finish. But, depending what type of story you tell, you might prefer to tell your story in a non linear way.

Perhaps you’d prefer to tell us the resolution at the beginning and we’re left to wonder what’s to come next. Memoirs tend to be good at a non linear narrative, since each chapter might lead to different sections of their life. It isn’t necessarily told in a chronological order because sometimes life is easier to tell in a seemingly jumbled mess but you realise when you finish that it makes sense in the end. Or perhaps you want to tell the whole story backwards.

Whichever way you choose, make sure at least all five elements are in the fictional story. For non fiction works, it’s harder to know which you need. But they will help guide your story and you’ll see how the reader interacts with each section.

How do you use narrative structure?

Writing Elements: Writing Characters

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Disclaimer: there is so much I could say about characters, so expect a (potential) series about characters.

Writing characters is very much like getting to know a human being: no matter how well you think you know someone, they’ll always surprise you. Characters are the same. No matter how well you think you’ve written your character, they will always surprise you, which is why some writers don’t like to create characters beforehand. They much prefer to let the story shape what type of character they will be. However, other writers like to at least know the basics about their characters beforehand, while others like to know a lot of details about their characters. It really varies depending what type of writer you are.

However, there is one writing no-no that every writer tries to avoid: the dreaded Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is an unfulfilling character that either is a self insert of the author, an idealised version of the author or wish fulfilment. To an extent, all characters will have aspects of the writer in them. But if your character resembles Bella Swann from Twilight, you might have an issue. To see if your character is a Mary Sue, or in danger of becoming one, fill out this quiz and see what your result is.

How do you create complex characters?

For starters, take a look at your favourite characters and figure out why they’re your favourite characters. Usually, your favourite characters are representative of either who you are as a person or the type of person you’re drawn to. Whether it’s the humble librarian, the overconfident lawyer, the loud theatre performer, each have their own personality that perhaps resembles someone you know or perhaps reminds you of you or perhaps you’ve secretly wanted to be. Regardless, figure out what drew you to them in the first place (even if it took half a season to convince you – again, figure out why you didn’t like them initially).

Don’t be concerned if you’re drawn to villains though. I’m drawn to villains in a fictional sense, but would immediately leave if that type of person manifested in my life. Characters are fictional and typically exaggerated to fit the story. For example, a villain is typically the polar opposite to the hero as a way to throw the hero off. However, the hero and villain usually have something in common so their paths cross in the first place.

Secondly, look at the people around you. From your family to your classmates/colleagues, figure out what you like or dislike about them. You might not get to choose who is in your school or workplace, nor who you’re related to, but you can at least figure out why you feel the way you do about them. Perhaps you don’t have an opinion on them, but you’ve noticed little things about them. Jot it down. Characters with little quirks are always better than flawless characters. Additionally, with family, see how you’re alike or different to them. Is there a family trait you share? Is there a genetic trait you share?

To add to this, look at why you chose your friends, regardless of whether they’re only online, your adorable pet(s) or imaginary (we’ve all been there). Why did you choose them to be your friends? What was it about them that drew you to them? Then look at maybe a trait or two you might not like, and maybe consider adding it to a character or two. As I mentioned above, a flawless character isn’t realistic, so add flaws in.

Thirdly, look at the people around you in a more general sense. Sit down with a notebook (or the note section on your phone) and observe the people you see. Sure, you won’t get an in depth analysis like you do with your loved ones, or even a brief overview like those at school/work, but you can see things that might say a lot about them. For example, if you see someone disrespect a waitress, you can probably gauge a little about them. Or use stereotypes and consider why they’re stereotypes, or perhaps why they don’t fit this stereotype. I promise, you’ll learn more about a person when you see why they don’t fit a certain stereotype/label than how they do.

Lastly, if all else fails, fill out some character questionnaires or interviews. Even better, grab a friend and get them to ask you questions about your character and you answer as if you are your character (also known as hot seating). It’s a good way of figuring out how well you know your character and how to develop them further. Plus, it’s a good way to see what types of questions the interviewer asks you, because you might not have ever thought about it and they might bring up an interesting point.

Basically, the main key to writing a good character is to see if they’re complex or not. If you could tell me tons of detail about your loved one but next to nothing about your character, you might want to flesh out your character a bit more (depending what type of writer you are).

What’s your best advice for writing characters?

Is there anything you want me to cover about characters? Let me know!

My Trip To Norway

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I went to Norway for the first time with three of my best friends that I’ve known for over 10 years and we were all wondering how it’s taken us so long to go on holiday together. It was one of the best holidays ever, partially thanks to how beautiful Norway is.

Before we had even arrived in the country, we were concerned with money since we’d heard the rumours about it being one of the most expensive countries in the world. Fortunately, we were careful with our money and managed it quite well. We were all quite shocked to find everything was either cheap or expensive with no in between.

25th May

I’m sure you don’t want to hear all about our journey over to Norway, but I will give a little overview and what we did once we’d arrived at our Air BnB. Spoiler alert: not much.

  • Our flight was delayed (classic RyanAir) and I was sat on the first row (an experience, for sure)
  • We tried to hire a car but realised it was too expensive even if there were any cars left
  • The bus to take us to the train station stayed parked for a good half an hour, and even when it did finally move, it literally went one space forward to pick up more passengers
  • We somehow managed to get on the train for free? The conductor kept walking through, but he never asked to see our (lack of) tickets so…
  • We arrived at our Air BnB in the nicest area. A family friendly neighbourhood. Our Air BnB owner wasn’t there when we arrived, so her lovely husband filled us in
  • To save ourselves some money, we agreed to go food shopping and eat dinner in, and shockingly, it wasn’t extortionate prices
  • We took the scenic route to the shop, then found a quicker way home
  • While eating dinner, we watched the TV on the only British channel we could find and decided we were all tired so we stayed in

26th May

Excited to explore, we ventured out for the day, ready to see Norway. We wanted to see as many of the sights as possible that were relatively cheap, or free.

Harbour

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We headed for the harbour first with the intention of finding the opera house and the palace. However, by some chance, we managed to walk in the opposite direction of both and ended up by this incredible building. We obviously climbed up it and saw stunning views around. Then we had a little break where I bought some delicious ice cream.

Medieval Park

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We didn’t stay here long, partially because there wasn’t much to see. It was literally some ruins. I don’t know any more than that. I was too busy taking pictures, then running after my friends since they left without me.

Botanical Garden

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We decided to take the scenic route to the Munch museum by going round the Botanical Garden. It was beautiful, but we didn’t see too much of it. If we had had more time, I definitely would’ve enjoyed the beautiful flowers and general scenery.

Munch Museum

I’ll be honest, Edvard Munch really liked death, illness and portraying women in a negative life. We had all wanted to see the iconic Scream painting, but as it turned out, it was in the National Gallery and none of us wanted to pay into another place for one painting. Still, we got to see one of the paintings from the Scream series, which was something I never knew before. I assumed it was one painting, not a series of paintings.

* * * * *

We then tried to find the food market but had somehow missed it. By this time, we were all feeling the heat, so we agreed to head back to the Air BnB for a while. I say a while. A while turned into a few hours. We kept trying to find places for dinner, and by the time we were done, the sun was really setting. Still, we’d travelled to go to…

Statue Park

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We’d watched a documentary before coming with Richard Ayoade that showed a statue park. Fascinated by these quirky statues, we headed over. I wish we’d gone a little earlier so we’d have gotten better pictures of the statues, but we still had a good laugh. I posed beside a statue and watched two of my friends reenact some.

27th May

Hike to the Ski Jump

 

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I’ll be honest, a hike isn’t my idea of fun. I actually dreaded it before we went up. However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, I had to stop several times, but I was never that far a part from my friends. In fact, my friends were proud of me for reaching the top, as was I! AND I didn’t feel sore the next day*. Progress! The view was magnificent. Totally worth it.

*I haven’t exercised properly in at least five years, so this hike should’ve left my legs hurting the next day, but it didn’t.

Paradis

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Along the way to find an ice cream shop near the palace, we stumbled on a crowded beach. It was so nice to be next to the sea again. I’ve honestly missed the sea so much. I definitely need to head to a beach some time this summer.

The ice cream shop was so worth finding! I adore ice cream shops and a mint choc chip ice cream was so nice after wandering around in the heat. We chilled out by a bridge in the shade, just chatting and enjoying our ice cream.

Palace

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By the time we reached the palace, the heat had gotten to me. I tried to be enthusiastic, or even chatty with my friends, but I couldn’t. I took a picture of the palace, but like, it was just another palace. Sorry but I’ve been to too many by now. Even the ones in England don’t make me feel anything. Not from the outside anyway.

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I was so grateful when we got to just lay down in the grass in the park. Me and my friend napped, while the other two chatted. I desperately needed it. The heat had gotten to me, so napping in the shade was an actual necessity.

* * * * *

We then headed back to cook dinner and have an early night since we had to wake up at 4am. Yikes! But hey, watching Shrek 2 after dinner and before bed was nice. It was chilled out, which is what I love to do with my friends.

28th May

Again, you probably don’t want to hear about our journey back, but here are the highlights:

  • We woke up at 4am and managed to get out in half an hour
  • We walked to the bus stop, and while we were waiting, I appreciated how wonderfully quiet it was. Don’t get me wrong, Norway isn’t like big cities so it always feels quiet, but this was on another level. So peaceful
  • I napped on the coach to the airport and don’t regret anything. I’d had five hours sleep so…
  • Our flight was delayed by at least half an hour
  • I hadn’t eaten breakfast because I assumed our flight would be on time and I could eat something at the airport when we landed
  • Naturally, you can imagine how hungry I was by 10:30am
  • I bid my goodbyes to my friends and grabbed some breakfast before continuing the rest of my journey

* * * * *

While I wasn’t the greatest out and about, especially on the last day, I definitely appreciated the moments we got to chat or laugh. Basically, be ourselves. Those are the moments I really love the most, and I’m so glad we had those moments while on holiday. These three have been in my life since childhood, so they mean a lot to me. Having those moments where we could have a deep conversation, or we could just be goofy dorks, is incredibly important to me and any friendship I have. It honestly made the holiday for me, because it reminds me why we’re still friends, and probably always will be.

I’d definitely revisit Norway, but in a slightly cooler climate, because I didn’t feel like I fully appreciated it while there. The heat got to me a few times so I couldn’t enjoy it. But it was so beautiful, and so different from society as I know it. It’s so safe and quiet, albeit expensive. I could see myself living there for a short period of time, especially since they have wooden panel housing (my favourite!). But I think it’d be too quiet for me in the long term.

Norway is a beautiful city that’s just so quiet and safe. It blew my mind how safe it was. You could literally keep your front door open all day and nobody would rob you. Insane! I wish it were like that elsewhere.

I’d highly recommend Norway, for the scenery just as much as anything else.

Writing Elements: Setting

Setting

Where and when you set your story helps determine whether the audience will relate and how much world building and/or research you’ll need to do.

For starters, you need to determine what types of settings you’ll need. Make a list of all the settings your character is likely to visit, including the most mundane places. A home is as important, if not more so, than the location where the crucial plot unfolds. Or perhaps the most important location is the place your character visits the most and isn’t their actual home but feels more like a home (if that makes sense).

Now, the next step greatly depends on what type of story you’re writing. For example, if you’ve decided to set your story in a futuristic sci-fi world or a fantasy land, the audience will need plenty of descriptions for these places. Although, the audience will probably have associations for those two genres, so unless they’re wildly different from the audience’s perceptions, you could get away with a limited amount of description.

However, if you’re setting the story on Earth in a real location, or even a made up name for a generic city or town or whatever else, the audience can conjure up certain associations with those types of places. For example, a city might conjure up skyscrapers and branded shops/coffee shops and launderettes, whereas a village might conjure up local shops with one or two big brands and plenty of churches and pubs.

Historical fiction will definitely require research to know and understand what specific places were like and how they functioned. I’d definitely recommend visiting historical sites if you can, or visiting libraries/museums that could show you what the place used to look like. It also depends what time period you’re setting your story in, and where in the world. For example, if you set your story in Pompeii, I would highly recommend a visit to the place, if you can. If not, watch a documentary or search the internet for photos of what it might’ve looked like. Or perhaps you’ve decided to set your story in the 1920s in Australia. Again, if you can’t visit the actual place, look on the internet for resources.

But why is setting important?

Like I mentioned above, audiences have associations with certain places. But it also can say a lot about a character. For example, if a character spent more time at a cafe than at home, you might question what’s wrong with their home or home life. Equally, a home says a lot about a person, such as a messy environment might belong to a messy person. Or, to make your story interesting, your character might be an incredibly organised person at work but have the messiest home.

Additionally, setting can say a lot about status and class. For example, a poor person is hardly likely to live in a mansion and a rich person is hardly likely to live on the streets, unless some odd situation happens to flip their status/class. What they own and what’s important to them in their home is very telling of a character. A childhood teddy bear sitting on a bed or an old rocking chair passed down through the generations tell you something about the character.

A good example is to watch any TV show or movie you want and to see how they design rooms in their homes. Every object serves a purpose: to tell you something about the character. The same should apply when describing your setting. We don’t necessarily need to know about the lake if it’s not important, but please do tell us about that jacket that belonged to that special person a few years back. Or another brilliant example: Harry Potter. The way J.K. Rowling describes Diagon Alley, Hogwarts or The Burrow are very telling of the characters that inhibit this world and lets us in on this magical world we’ve recently discovered with Harry Potter.

Equally, where in the world they live or come from says a lot about them too. The nature vs. nurture argument is still widely debated today. For example, someone born in America will have a different upbringing and different values from someone who was born in India. Additionally, if someone is from an Italian family and were born there but moved when they were young to Spain, they would have a different upbringing from their family. They would learn a lot about their country’s history, but perhaps not more than that. Or they might be taught certain values at school but their family might teach them different values.

Setting is sometimes overlooked for more important elements in the writing process, but setting is just as important as the other writing elements… if done right. If done wrong, it can feel like info dumping and the audience will get bored. But if done right, even if there are long paragraphs describing the setting, the audience won’t mind so long as it has importance to the plot or the character is doing something in relation to the setting.

Finding the right balance is crucial.

It might be a struggle at first, but once you find that balance, you’ll realise how important setting is to your character and plot.

What are your favourite settings?

Writing Elements: Planning

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So you have an idea or two for a story, maybe even a setting and some characters, but now what?

Planning!

Depending on what type of writer you are*, this will either fill you with joy or dread. But trust me, even if it’s just a brief description of what will happen in each chapter, a plan is definitely something you should do. It helps keep you on track when you’ve gone off on an elaborate side story and you’re wondering what the main story is supposed to be… or a similar scenario.

*NaNoWriMo has three types of writer: a pantser (basically no planning), plantser (some planning) or a planner (all the planning).

Every person has their own way of planning, but just in case you don’t have a method yet, here’s a few ways you can try.

Firstly, decide whether to prefer to plan in a notebook, with separate sheets of paper scattered around (or flashcards) or on your electronic device, whether its your phone, laptop or tablet. It depends whether you prefer the physical sensation of writing things down or the accessibility of typing everywhere and knowing it can be backed up easier. It depends whether you prefer physically making your notebooks or sheets of paper colourful and decorative, or you prefer being able to edit your mistakes easily on your devices knowing you can move sections as you need.

Secondly, you at least need to have a protagonist, an antagonist and a setting. Having a plot is obviously the most important, but a character and setting is equally as important. I’ll go into further detail about characters and setting in separate blog posts, but without all three, your plan might struggle. Although, this is where the spontaneous writers would say they can figure it out as they go along.

Thirdly, the actual planning. Again, as I mentioned, planning is individual to each person. However, a few things you can plan are the character story arc, chapter outlines, potential new characters, world building and any potential research you might need to do. Or if you’re struggling with your ideas, you can decide what type of stories you want to tell by thinking about what stories you like to read and watch, or by the stories/people that intrigue you. Perhaps it’s a friend who always seems to have the wildest stories, or a stranger you met once but felt something towards them.

How much detail, time and effort you put into planning is up to you, just like what story you’ll tell and how. But planning isn’t as boring or scary as it seems. If anything, it can help get your ideas out, including characters and settings. Additionally, when and where you decide to plan is also up to individual choice. Perhaps you like working at a coffee shop, or perhaps you prefer finding a comfy spot to plan in.

How do you plan your stories, if you do?

Writing Elements: Research

Research

Regardless of when you do it, every writer does some sort of research for their stories.

Perhaps you need more information before you can begin writing, or perhaps you’re at a pivotal part of your story and you’ve realised you need to do some research. No matter the reason why or when you decide to do it, research is a vital step in writing.

What research you do depends entirely on what you’re writing about. For example, if you’re writing about a life experience you’ve not been through, you’ll need to do extensive research. The same applies with genre fiction. If you’re writing a historical novel, you’ll need to research about the time period you’re writing in so you have some level of accuracy.

It doesn’t matter what medium you use to conduct your research. It’d be crazy for me to write down every piece of research you could do because it probably won’t apply to you. Plus, it’d take me countless hours to write it all down and I’d still miss something. So instead, I’ll list the various mediums you can use for research purposes.

1. The Internet

The most obvious answer and the richest resource you have.

However, it’s also the murkiest resource since you have to sift through all the links and web pages to find what you want, and even if you finally stumble on what you’ve been searching for, you then have the hassle of figuring out whether it’s a reliable source or not.

Figuring out how to use Google efficiently isn’t that time consuming, and chances are you’ve probably already learnt at some point. But in the instance that you haven’t, Hubspot has a helpful guide for you to check out. Learning little tips and tricks can save you some time.

Telling you to use the Internet can encompass literally anything, so let me break it down further.

1a. Websites

If you’re searching for specific information, websites can be very helpful with that. However, you should check when it was last updated because sometimes the information can be outdated. Additionally, check any sources they reference to see if they’re real. If the website is hard to navigate around, skim over the information to see if it’s worth staying on the website. But generally, I’d advise leaving since they’ll be other websites that will probably have the same information and laid out better.

1b. Blogs

If you can, check out blogs that have the specific information you’re searching for. For example, I’ve seen a medical specific Tumblr account that goes into details about different medical issues. The people running these accounts tend to be experts at what they know, so definitely consult them if you can. But like the websites, be weary because anyone can tell you anything.

1c. Social Media

It seems obvious, but social media can be a massive help. You can ask questions to specific people who have gone through a specific life experience, or perhaps they have ancestors who went through what you’re writing about. Just be weary what people tell you by fact checking or asking for proof. Evidence and facts are good, but anyone can claim anything.

2. Books

As a writer, you should be reading books for research. However, whether the books are fictional or not is up to you.

Research can be simply read books in your chosen genre to see how they wrote it and adapt that to your writing. Or read a book you’d never normally pick up so you can see how other books are written and to expand your perspective, especially in a world where you tend to live in your own social media bubble.

With non fictional books, the information might be outdated, but it generally lasts because it’s been curated by experts. Additionally, a book can be used without worrying about battery life and can be brought around anywhere with you, depending how heavy it is. Besides, it’s good to get away from technology for a while. It’s very dependent on how you feel towards books.

3. Documentaries

A great resource, depending on the perspective shown. If the narrator is biased in any regard, it won’t be a truthful account. Take Morgan Spurlock’s documentary. It was supposed to criticise the fast food industry and instead was a smear campaign against McDonald’s. Check before you watch as to whether this is entirely truthful, and if not, look at the people it’s offended for why it did. Granted, sometimes people will find any reason to complain, so check the complaints are legit.

4. Exhibitions/Museums

Museums tend to be free, so you can gather as much information as you want. The staff will be knowledgeable about what’s in the museum, especially the tour guides, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re experts. With plenty of resources around, curated by historians and archeologists, it’s a very visual research method, and some have interactive elements to make it more fun and engaging (usually aimed at kids).

You usually have to pay for exhibitions, but depending what you’re searching for, it’s better to go. The information and objects tend to be very specific and detailed with a large focus on it, rather than competing against the rest of history or the museum. For example, if you wanted an extensive knowledge about the Celts and you can’t easily go to Ireland or Scotland, a temporary exhibition about them might be exactly what you need. It’s worth checking. Just be aware of the price, because they can be quite pricey.

5. Places/People

If you can, visiting historic sites or talking to historians/archeologists can be a huge bonus.

Historians and archeologists can provide details about what they know. They’ve done tons of research themselves about their chosen field/s so you can usually ask them questions about it.

Historic sites are a great resource to see how they would’ve lived. The sites might also have interactive elements to give you a taste of what life was like back then, including actors and actresses who perform like they would’ve. It really gives you a physical sense of life in particular periods and how far we’ve come since then. However, these places might not be easy to get to and might be expensive to get into. But it’s definitely worth it if you want a sense of what life was like.

There are probably other methods I’ve missed, but here are a few to get you started.

What methods do you use for your research?