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.


Casey said...

Great post, Julia, because no matter what kind of writer we are, we ALL have to do research. I love your points about this. Have you looked into snowflacking at all?

Keli Gwyn said...

I love research! I write historicals set in real towns, so research is a vital step in my writing process. I love unearthing interesting facts I can use in my stories.

Susan Anne Mason said...

I'm almost finished my first draft of my first historical romance so I had to do a fair bit of research - which is different for me, but I loved reading about Victorian times in England. FUN!

Although some facts are harder to find than others!

Good post!


Angie Dicken said...

Great tips! I enjoy researching...sometimes it helps nail down what my characters will encounter...part of being a panster I guess?

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I'm not a big fan of traditional research for stories, I'd rather just create! But I like the way you put this because there's always research to do for stories, even if it's just getting to know our characters better. I like sitting down and taking specific time to develop my setting, and my characters, that's the kind of research that's fun for me!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Oh goodness, research is not my friend, LOL. I think that's why I steer clear of historicals. :) Great tips today, Julia!

Jennifer K. Hale said...

I'm a total pantster, but I love the research process! That could be because I'm a history teacher by trade...
I never know what I'm going to discover during the process and I'm always surprised! 9/10 my discoveries alter the plot of my story!

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Casey,

OK, trying to comment once again here. Not loving blogger today. I've heard from several people that use snowflaking and it sounds like a great process.

@ Keli,

I can't wait to read some of those interesting facts for myself when your book comes out!!

@ Susan,

Victorian times is one of my favorite eras. And I agree with you some facts definitely require some unearthing!

@ Angie,

That's what I love too...the understanding it helps me develop into my characters and their emotions.

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Cindy,

Your favorite part is the same as mine...learning about our characters!!

@ Sarah,

Yeah, I love research but I doubt I will write a historical either. Although I'm beginning to think I might try a suspense novel next :)

@ Jennifer,

Oh yes, as a former librarian I can definitely relate :) That's neat how you see how the discoveries alter the plot of your story.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I love the research...maybe a little too much. I have to make my self quit and get my butt moving on writing the story. Very much the something shiny thing--

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Mary,

Yup, I hear you there. :)