Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Research

I finished writing my first story when I was in high school.  It was about 115,000 words long and utterly awful!  But I learned a lot from penning this tale. One thing I learned was research, or more specifically how I shouldn't go about  my research. 

For my location in the story, I went to a map and picked out a small town in Illinois.  I wrote the bureau center for that area and asked for some pamphlets or any kind of information they could supply.  In return, they sent me a map and visitor's magazine, highlighting different places in the entire state. So I scoured the map and magazine, picking out different things I could put in my story.

When my sister, who is five years older than me, heard about what I was doing, she was all like, "Hey, let's go there and check the town out."  Being only seventeen and never having left my home state of Kansas very often, my answer was an enthusiastic, "Okay!"

So, on the last day of my junior year of high school, the back of my little red Nissan was packed full of suitcases.  As soon as school let out, my sister (who worked as a paraprofessional at my high school) and I hopped into my car and drove seven hours to this town I'd obsessed over on a map for months. 

I planned to interview every local I saw and get all the good details.  There was also a museum I'd found in the visitor's magazine that I wanted to see because that's where I planned for the heroine to meet with the bad guy.

Four hundred miles from home, we arrive in our destination. The one thing I remember about driving through this town to the hotel where I was going to have the heroine stay was how good it smelled.

There must've been a bunch of restaurants grouped up together because as we passed through this one area, our car filled with the heavy aroma of all these delicious cuisines.  Made my mouth water.

The next thing I remember about this trip was how there was no window in the hotel bathroom.  Ack!  This was awful.  My heroine was supposed to escape out the window of the bathroom in THIS very hotel.

Then, the museum I wanted to visit wasn't even open.  Turned out, it only opened at certain times of the year.  Not good for my plot.

And all those people I wanted to talk to...yeah, didn't happen.  I was way too shy.  We visited the library, I bought a book from their book sale, and I still couldn't drum up the nerve to talk to anyone. And that was about it.  Aside from going out for food, we barely left the hotel room.

What's worse, my sister, who was about nine-weeks pregnant, began her morning sickness the day we arrived. So, she mostly just curled up on the hotel bed and groaned in agony for the rest of the trip.

I finished writing the manuscript (go me!), but it never went anywhere.  I think even I knew better than to try to submit it to anyone!

Since then, I haven't driven any great distance to try talking to anyone.  In fact, if I can't contact a person via email, I don't even bother.  Maybe hopefully someday I'll get up the nerve to talk to an actual person (aside from my husband!) for writing research.

What are some of the lengths you've gone to for research on your stories? Was your research very helpful to your book?


Jennifer Shirk said...

Wow, I can't believe you actually traveled there. Very cool.
If I can't email, then i don't bother either. But I have done some face to face interviews with policemen for info. :-)

Linda Kage said...

Oh Good! I'm glad I'm not on the only one who finds it hard to do a face to face interview. I'm married to my policeman, so it's very easy to bombard him with question after question about law issues, though he has threatened to start charging me for all his information!!

January Bain said...

Tres cool, Linda! I travel, but only in my own mind. I love research, especially anything to do with physics and science. Makes me sooooo happy to learn something new along the way!

I too am way too shy about approaching others so am very grateful for books and the internet. Good that you pointed out the drawbacks, though! As getting things right does add such credibility to ones work.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I'm just the opposite. My research is almost all verbal. Call me lazy or call me lonely. I found out about the Welsh town in PA I was using in my novel by running into a couple from there in a tea room in FL. Pure serendipity. They had overheard me discussing my trouble finding out about the silk mill there and hopped in: "We're from there. What do you want to know?

Jessica Nelson said...

That's awesome you finished your ms! And what a completely cool sister to take you to do research. :-)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

It was great you actually went there at all, Linda. I used to be far too shy to ask the right questions but I'm trying to be more nosy now whenever we go anywhere!

Carol Kilgore said...

I do a lot of research, too, but like you, mostly by email. It's amazing what people will tell you.

You have a great sister!

Allison Knight said...

When I started writing, there was no e-mail. Showing my age. Ha! But as a high school teacher, I didn't have any trouble talking - to anyone. And we toured at lot of places in the States where I set my stories. Glad I did. I would have made some awful mistakes about landscape if we hadn't visited.

Marie Rose Dufour said...

I think the wonderful thing about the internet is that you can research anywhere from the comfort of your own home. It does take some of the fun out of it but... Who knows. We're going to New Orleans this summer, so maybe sometime next year, I'll have a book set there!