Author Archaeology 101-Part 1 by Jan Cline

Jan Cline shows us how to dig for research.

Do you have a love-hate relationship with research and organization? I think most writers do. We sniff out the facts we need for our articles or fiction plots, but when it comes to organizing, cataloging or documentation, most of us fall short of anything more than good intensions.

The problem is, we might learn the hard way that these two components of a writer’s world are more important than the meager time and attention we give it.

Start with digging.

I like to think of research as a treasure hunt. Indiana Jones has nothing on me when it comes to good finds. And I’ve never had to dodge poison darts or Nazi bullets. My most recent treasure was a box of memorabilia that I discovered in my mother’s army footlocker. She passed away some time ago, but I wanted to do a story on her and her first husband—a bomber pilot killed in WWII.

There in that locker was a treasure of affects. Not my mom’s, but her husband’s. I mean things like a purple heart, letter to my mom from the war department, airman’s medal with shrapnel from the plane crash, marriage certificate, a hand written letter from one of the survivors of the crash, explaining the details of the incident, photos and much more.

So my story turned into a novel—my current work in progress. The task of putting it all together encouraged me to be more organized in all areas of my writing projects. Here are some of the most important things I learned:

 Be creative with where you find your information. The Internet is great, but not always the best source. Be sure to recheck all the facts you take from the web – especially from sites like Wikipedia. Try other search engines than the one you usually use, and be creative with your search wording.

Other places to find information or inspiration might be libraries, tourist attractions, the local chamber of commerce, and even nursing homes! Yes, there are people living in those homes that have stories to tell. The elderly are an untapped resource. You may not be able to bet on their accuracy, but you will come away with stories and characters based on real life and from another time. Besides, they love to have visitors.

My personal favorite hunting grounds are museums. I always ask if I’m allowed to take pictures, then photograph displays that might help me describe a scene. I have even zoomed in to the plaques that give historical information and taken pictures of them to use for reference or inspiration.  

Gather all your pamphlets, photos, memorabilia, clippings, etc. and find what best works for you to store, catalog and organize it. More on that in Part 2.

 Happy digging and stay tuned.


Jan Cline is a freelance writer, speaker, singer and aspiring author from Spokane, Washington. She has had numerous articles and short stories published, and in 2008 wrote, performed and produced a lullaby CD. She is currently seeking publication for her first novel and near completion of her second. Jan will be teaching a workshop on Author Archaeology 101 at Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference. She has been a member of NW Christian Writers since August, 2010. 

Jan’s website is, and her blog can be found at 


3 thoughts on “Author Archaeology 101-Part 1 by Jan Cline

  1. I have an older friend with the same story as your dear Mom. She had one daughter at the time, later on the Lord brought her to Himself, then brought her another husband and more kids. I am sure your book will touch many hearts, as there are unfortunately, many stories like this. May the Lord bless your writing.


  2. What a great topic, Jan! One thing I’ve noticed, when you’re a writer (or speaker), everything is an illustration! I jot like mad but I have snippets all over the place on my computer! (Yes, I’m the one who teaches organization.) Can’t wait to hear your organizing tips!


  3. Great stuff, Jan. I also like to check the library for videos or travel info on sites or eras. I might spend hours watching stuff that yields just a few key items but it really can add to the authenticity.


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