Thursday, September 7, 2017

Always there - research

I love the research for books so much that I sometimes forget to stop researching and start writing the story.

The goal, of course, is to write my stories to be as authentic as possible. For historical books, I visit locations, try recipes, check out period details (like fashion, transportation, food, technology) on the Internet, and interview people who may have lived during the time period.

For contemporary stories, I often write about issues, technology, or places in which I have experience. Sometimes, though, my experiences aren't enough to write a complete, interesting, satisfying story. In those cases, I research and research and research...

If you're a writer, here are a few tips for researching books, whether historical or contemporary.

  • Interview your family and friends: Everyone you know is an expert on something--and often their interests and skills will surprise you. So ask--and prepare to be amazed. Make mental notes about their love of horseback-riding or their fascination with astronomy. You will use it one day!
  • Visit museums, historical sites, etc.: Many docents know everything about a topic, and they want to answer your questions. So visit museums or historical sites and engage in conversation with the docents, staff, park rangers, etc. They love eager and interested visitors.
  • Watch YouTube: Let's face it. YouTube has a video for everything. If you don't know how something works, you'll find a how-to video on YouTube.
  • Browse Wikipedia: Yeah, I know. You can't always rely on wikipedia to give you purely factual, accurate information. But, it can supply a good, general overview--and the references linked at the end of each article are priceless.
  • Go!: if you have access to locations or venues that will be featured in your book, go and experience it firsthand. Use local parks as book settings. Take in a ballgame. Sign up for lessons in cooking, dancing, sports, etc. 

Let me show how I applied some of these suggestions to my books.

The Whisper Falls series: It's entirely possible that I have visited every colonial museum or historical site in North Carolina and Virginia. The docents/guides at Mount Vernon, Tryon Palace, Yates Mill, and Williamsburg are amazing. I learned incredible nuggets of information that enriched my stories.

As a time-travel, the Whisper Falls series also required contemporary research. I've watched YouTube videos about mountain bike racing, chatted with my Physical Therapist about how to break noses, and asked my cousin-in-law (who, coincidentally, is the registrar of deeds in a nearby county) to explain how to fake a birth certificate.

The I WISH series: In the first book, the issues were mainly depression and poverty--which I have first-hand experience with. But I also had a biracial character, which required interviews with a biracial friend. The second and third books deal with grief, terminal illness, and disability. Again, I interviewed people with knowledge of brain injuries and caregivers of cancer patients. Their candor was invaluable. For small details--like ballroom dancing or building stacked stone walls--I used YouTube. Lastly, I needed one of the main characters to have an interesting hobby, and the young man ended up with my husband's passion--astronomy.

The Possibility of Somewhere: The heroine, Eden, is dealing with poverty and the difficulties of getting college scholarships when you can't afford the extra-curricular activities that make your resume shiny. Since those issues are somewhat autobiographical, I knew how she felt. But the details had changed since I was in high school. So I read blogs, content on social media, and Quora questions. The hero, Ash, is the son of Asian-Indian immigrants. Because I work at a global company, I had several Indian colleagues who were willing to answer my questions about what life would be like for Ash.

Fade To Us: This book (which releases in February 2018) may have been the most interesting to research because of the variety of disparate threads that are woven through.

  • Biracial stage manager: The hero is half-Chinese and half-white. I interviewed a Chinese friend and her biracial sons to understand the character of Micah. He's the stage manager for theater productions. Happily, my daughter has a friend who is a professional stage manager. (And, yes, Daniel, you will see some of your quotes in the book :)
  • Baseball umpires: The heroine's mom is a lady umpire; that was fun to research! I attended a baseball game with a professional umpire, who called them for me and gave me insider details. In addition to introducing me to a lady umpire, he beta-read the baseball sections of the book.
  • Summer musical theater program: A local high school allowed me to sit in on their musical theater rehearsals, both during the school year and during the summer. Since the musical featured in the book is Oklahoma!, I was able to observe the rehearsals of a local community theater's production of Oklahoma!.
  • Autism: The third main character, Natalie, is on the autism spectrum. I have a child with Asperger's Syndrome, so I've "lived" the research for over 20 years. But I still read books and blogs, chatted with autism parents, and leaned on the many observations I've made with my daughter and her friends on the spectrum. Natalie is--of course--her own unique person; she is not a re-creation of anyone I know.

I hope that some of these suggestions spark ideas for how you can make your research process fun and effective!

No comments:

Post a Comment