Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Sshhh!! Research in progress!!
Shhhh!! Pantserly types beware! You never know what type of fun you might find...at your local library.
I know, I know, snicker snicker. I'll admit to being the ultimate nerd. You know the kid who actually enjoyed reading the dictionary, and the cereal box, and anything else that had more than 2 words on it.
But since I've started writing, I've found my obsession serves me well most of the time.
Think of that old college thesis.
Remember narrowing down that 50 plus page research paper to an introductory paragraph with one good thesis sentence? We tend to see the uniqueness of our own topic choices. It is our own book after all. We need to show how our book captures a new spot in the market. Like with our college thesis, we are finding a fresh angle.
Just like we did with those annoying index cards we need to circle around in larger and larger circles like a helicopter in order to "learn more" about our topic.
Think of your address. Saying you live in the United States only narrows you down to about a quarter billion, but it does give crucial information. Circle in on your state and city with that helicopter. Hone in on your street will limit even more. Finally, the pilot has an aerial view of your house.
Try making a story map with the main topics in your story. Perhaps concentric circles, ever increasing in size. Or if you prefer make a "tree" that branches out. You'll want to spend most of your research time closest to your inner circle, the unique core of your story that only belongs to you. Then move your way outward. For instance, the fact that you live in the United States lumps you with a large pool of others. Yet there may be crucial aspects to your "broader" topic that still need to be researched.
For instance, let's say I want to write a book about a childhood friend of Helen Keller's whom she meets at school. I'm obviously going to want to research the exact time period. What was going on that would have influenced living as a blind person? How about location? How does that affect my character? The more specific you get, the better information you will yield. On the other hand, sometimes when we get too specific we may not find as many results. Using Amazon to look up books with similiar themes is helpful in pinpointing the best words to use in a search engine or when looking through a database.
Make your own index for your book. List out all the places, time period(s), specific locations, real-life people, issues your characters face, etc. Then go to hunting.
Google images is great because you can find photos of an exact location during your time period. If you are visual in particular, this can be a great help. Oftentimes looking at a photograph will give me "new" insights into my character.
View research as getting further acquainted with your characters. Don't forget you are building on not just descriptive details, but you are also increasing your own depth as a writer as you explore the emotional landscape of others during the same time period, in the same location, or most of all, those who have faced similiar emotional issues.
Do you enjoy the research process? Do you have any helpful research tips to share?
Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.