Saturday, June 14, 2008

Research to keep it real

This post really belongs back at the beginning of this blog. Research is not necessary for every novel, but it is most likely that your novel does require at least a little research. Lets start with the scope of research.

First, location. If you are writing a small town story about childhood friends, set in a town like the one you grew up in, you know the setting. No research needed. If, however, you grew up in the city and you still live there, you may need some help understanding small town life. How do you research a setting? It can be difficult to research in such a way that you really know what you need to know, what I will call the intangibles. This is why many suggest starting by writing what you know.

You can visit areas that embody the spirit of the setting you want to portray, or read respected fiction and non-fiction books set in the same type of location. The key is that you know some of the small signs that indicate the nuances of your setting in a subtle and non-cliche way, once again, the intangibles.

Second, the characters' jobs. Unless your characters do what you do for a living, you need to research what the characters' jobs are all about, down to understanding the type of people that do the jobs. Maybe in your research you find that a job does not fit your character's personality. It does not necessarily mean you need to change the character's job, but it may tell you that the character is lousy at the job and wants to quit.

A third area of research is what I would call technical research. This really falls into the second category, because if you are writing technical information in your story, it should be from the perspective of one of your characters. Therefore, they must know about the subject area. I would make the distinction in the area of usage. An electrician will have certain habits, and probably personality traits, due to the fact that they were drawn to that job. That is separate from knowing the lingo of amps and volts. The job must be researched for realism in scenes. The only technical research you need to do is specific to details that will serve the story. You don't need to learn how to wire your circuit breaker.

Another side benefit that can come from research is great story ideas. You may find an entire story line nested in a fun fact about your character's job, or small town life.

If you research up front, your writing will be more informed, and you will save time in revisions later. I only wish I had received this advice before I started my book.

Until next time, lets keep on writing.

No comments: