Friday, July 29, 2011
LET RESEARCH BE A WALK IN THE PARK!
Temperatures in our area in central North Carolina have hovered around 100 degrees for more than a week. Makes writing inside in air conditioned comfort the thing to do, but when the cool breezes returns, I’ll be talking a walk. I think when I walk. I think when I dream. I think when I am sitting in the doctor’s office. Sometimes, though, I need help.
Where does a writer come up with their story? Some claim images appear in their heads or they find an interesting subject, one they want to share with the world. A plot concept needs to fill enough pages to have a sellable piece of work.
This is where research comes in. Dreadful as that sounds, you can turn it around by listening to your characters. Say, what? Just listen! Your characters can help. What is their background? Their values? Their imperfections? How can you layer a story with emotion, action, conflict and more if you haven’t answered these questions?
For instance: in my contemporary romance, SECRET LOVE MATCH, I wanted my heroine to be good at something. Tennis came to mind. Why tennis? I remembered the tennis lessons my parents provided in my youth. I swung a tennis racket in high school and college, too.
It was the simple fact that I liked tennis that led me to research the rules of the game and the summer Olympics. How did my heroine feel when she raised her racket to play against the handsome hero who just introduced himself and asked her to play? I could relate.
My hero takes her to a museum on their ‘first date’. He remembered when he was younger he visited the Hayden Planetarium, part of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I remember frequent class trips to various New York museums and the Hayden Planetarium was a favorite. Research on the internet let me find photos, descriptions, history, and even its street location so I could knowledgably pepper my story with fact.
A walk in the park? Not always. In my latest romantic suspense novels, DESTINY’S MOUNTAIN and LOVE TO THE RESCUE, my heroes and heroines either meet on a mountain trail or in a fire department in the middle of rural New Hampshire. I was born and raised in New York, but graduated from a New Hampshire college in a little town nestled between a beautiful river and glorious mountains. I married and raised a family.
I’ve hiked those mountains, swam in the rivers, and fished. I used these memories to give my books desirable backgrounds for my characters. I also used my knowledge as a former EMT and firefighter to make the rescue scenes realistic. If I didn’t have first-hand knowledge of small town emergency departments and ambulance capabilities, I would have researched these via the internet, my local library, or by brainstorming with friends still living in the area.
Still think writing a story about what is in your heart is tough? Of course it is, but not impossible. I’ve wanted to visit Scotland ever since meeting the man I eventually married. We now volunteer at a large annual Scottish Highland Games held in New England and have used my experience to plot a time travel story set partly at the games. Someday, we will head over to Scotland.
I learned gathering research can be a long, yet enjoyable process. I had no idea I’d be an author one day. Luckily, my brain filed away the beauty of the mountains, the quaint historic village at the games, the sound of bagpipes, and the smell of haggis and shortbread. I used these memories to enhance my story. When my Scottish paranormal was released, I had set DRAGON’S CURSE on an island I discovered while doing research. I’d love to visit an island like Staffa or Skye. Then I’ll absorb enough atmosphere to create dozens of other stories.
What I am trying to say is that research can be fun. Take a walk. Visit a museum. Remember a moment in your life where you experienced something new, wonderful, sad, or life changing. The best stories start in your heart, not in your head. Be it your heart, your mind, or the park…take a walk!
Portions of this article by me were posted Sept. 8, 2010 on the Savvy Authors Blog.