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This blog was featured on 09/25/2019
5 Research Lessons from Taylor Jenkins Reid
Written by
She Writes
September 2019
Written by
She Writes
September 2019

This month we kicked off She Writes University Fall 2019 and Taylor Jenkins Reid's course Researching Your Novel was first up! It was an amazing deep-dive into how she created the rich detail that made her bestselling books Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo not only reader favorites but caught the eye of Reese Witherspoon. 

The recording is still available and we strongly recommend picking it up before it's gone if you're hoping to add depth and realism to your work. Here's a peek at what you can hope to get into during her class!

Understand What Audiences Might Compare Your Book To

In her course, Taylor talks about the importance of comparable titles, including books, television and movies. But she goes beyond this when she discusses Evelyn Hugo. She knew that the concept of her book would invoke thoughts of Elizabeth Taylor. And so it was crucial for her to examine this comparable real-life person so that she could make intentional choices to create similarities and differences within her fictional characters. 

Know the Tropes and How to Heighten Them

When you choose a genre and a type of story, there will be certain reader expectations established by all the works that came before. Taylor discusses how it's not only important to recognize these tropes but to start to get a feel for how they can be elevated. 

Time and Place

This is the part of research Taylor describes as her favorite. This stage involves immersing herself in fashion, culture, entertainment and history that makes up the setting of her stories. 

Before writing Daisy Jones, Taylor started her process by digging into seventies rock. She was a self-described "non-expert" having never been alive during that time period nor having any direct relation to it prior to her book idea. 

"I knew almost nothing at the start," she explains.

But through intensive research, she created a character so realistic it leaves readers Googling "Is Daisy Jones a real person?"

Taylor explains to students how they can develop a scene so rich with realistic detail that the only thing "made up" in that moment is the character you've created. 

Specificity That Evokes a Universal Image

During her course, Taylor gets down into the nitty-gritty of her process by describing how she might decide on something seemingly simple like the kind of car a member of the band in Daisy Jones would drive. 

She talks about how writers should think about:

  • What kind of cars were on the road at the time?
  • How did the character get the car? Bought used, passed down from a parent?
  • If the latter, what kind of parents do they have? Rich parents? Poor parents? Parents who were once wealthy, but aren't any longer?

Details that feel simple can have a rich history and it's important that writers walk themselves through the factors that could influence the objects and scenery around a character. 

What's Possible?

It's as important in research to know what is around your character as it is to know what is possible for a character. With a female character set in the seventies, a single line about taking birth control could be called into question. Was birth control available to someone like your character? If it wasn't, how does that impact any of the sexual interactions she has throughout the novel? What was the overall tone around using birth control in that era?

It's not enough to just know birth control was available. If it's going to be a part of the story, it has to be believable. And in order to be believable, the writer must know that the scene they have created is actually possible. 

Get more tips and a lot of expert advice by getting Taylor Jenkins Reid's class today!

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