It would be wonderful if I could simply sit at my desk and magically produce a great story, but this isn't the case. Once the idea for the storyline and characters is established, there is a significant amount of research that takes place before the story takes shape in a word document. Alas, I don't have staff to handle this, so I do it myself. Not that I mind. It usually is quite educational and enlightening, researching anything from unusual locales to food recipes.
It might seem like the easiest thing, but coming up with character names alone could be complicated, especially if they have to represent a particular nationality and you want to suit the name to the character. For instance, naming a muscular, rugged car mechanic Chip, doesn't really work, lol. I use four names sites in particular, which allow me to search for first names and surnames by origin and gender. Very handy. I remember it took about three hours to choose Kyla Ayslin's and Lord Egan's names in Her Warrior Lord--a medieval fantasy set in an unreal locale similar to northern Europe. I played with the spelling of Kyla's family name to give it an unusual look. There's a lot of sword fighting in that story, so I did extensive research on swords, sword fighting and fencing--yes, I now know that a rapier is a two-edged, narrow sword and quite a bit about parrying, crosscuts and lunges!
Sometimes, there's a scene that you really want to use and you get stuck because you don't have specific facts handy. In The Greek Bachelor, the hero meets the heroine at the airport on Zakynthos. Since I wanted them to walk to the parking lot together, I needed to have a basic visual of the place. Is there a designated area for this? (It's a small island after all). Is it outdoors? Is it close to the airport? I surfed every available tourist site for this piece of info and didn't find anything. Finally, I posted a couple of messages online and got responses from a few trustworthy sources. Otherwise, I would have been making a costly call to Zakynthos, lol.
Unlike the white-washed buildings in the Cyclades, architecture on Zakynthos boasts earth tones and catholic cathedrals because it was inhabited by ancient Venetians. Trust me, it's very hard to describe a place you've never set foot on. I used google maps, online geographical images, two good travel and Greek recipe books and got in touch with a restaurant whose location happened to be an important scene in the story. I needed to know how high the cliff at St. Leon was.
I would say that research accounts for about thirty percent of my writing. I'm constantly checking facts too, just in case. I don't want to assume something just because it seems correct. And in fiction, there's that fine line between facts you really need to stick to and ones you can play with.
Right now, I just finished writing the second book in the Greek Playboys series. It's got its own folder containing information from at least fifteen sources. My hero's a tycoon who owns cruise ships...there must a dozen web links in my favorites tab to mega yacht dealers and manufacturers, private yacht rentals, cruise lines, cruise vacations...I think you get the picture, lol. Whet your tastebuds with this one: http://tinyurl.com/lrq4o6 . Allow a few seconds for images to load. And, I managed to find a really good name for him that didn't end in 'opoulos'. ;-)