Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Four Tips when writing about something you've never done

Several years ago when my writing bud Nicole O’Dell asked me if I wanted to be part of a novella collection with her, my initial reaction was “of course!” Nicole is so prolific and accomplished I couldn’t imagine not writing with her. And if it also meant I could help a Valerie Comer, a debut author, get her first contract, then my enthusiasm for the project only went up.

Then they told me the topic for Rainbow's End.

Geo-caching? It sounds fun, but I’ve never tried it. Never been to the Ozarks either.

Still, I wanted to be part, so I put on my research hat. Here are some tips to help you when you find yourself in a similar position.

1) If you can't go to the location, talk to people who have been where your book is set. As God would have it work out, my sister and brother-in-law were on their way to Branson. Being the great folks they are, they detoured through Lake of the Ozarks just to let me know what the town was like. That’s how I learned about the turtle ice cream shop and the outlet mall that became pieces of my novella.

2) Hit the Internet.  While it's never the only stop for me, there is a wealth of information to discover. For example, find maps, information from chambers of commerce, etc. online. Also look up the websites of local businesses you want to reference. It'll give you a great starting point to build on. 

3) Utilize social networks. I know the theory of the geo-caching, but haven’t participated yet. I asked folks on Facebook if they’d gone. I talked to a friend who enjoys the hunt with his kids and made plans to participate at some time. Each of those details gave me a better idea what someone participating in a hunt like Rainbow’s End would experience and how to write the scenes. For A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, I asked for help naming businesses and got FANTASTIC ideas from online friends. For my book that releases in April, I asked for help naming a coffee shop and creating quirks for a heroine. People's suggestions were brilliant! Others can be so creative when I'm braindead. 

4) Look for hard to find resources. When writing Shadowed by Grace, I ran across a reference to a book that one of the Monuments Men had written about his time in Florence and surrounding areas. The challenge was the book was out of print, but Purdue University in my backyard had a copy of Art Under Fire. Because I'm faculty, I was able to borrow it for three months. It was the perfect resource to help me understand what he experienced during the war and make sure my hero was on target. It also was a free use -- so don't be afraid to try university libraries, interlibrary loan, etc. All of these can help you find that recourse which will give the details that make a book come to life. 

By the time I finished writing Love’s Prize, one of the novellas in Rainbow's End, I wanted to pack my bag and head to the Ozarks for some geo-caching. My prayer is that readers will feel the same way…like you’ve managed to sneak a short vacation within the pages of our stories.


An award-winning author of more than twenty-two books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.


Iola said...

I read and enjoyed Rainbow's End, but never would have guessed you'd never visited there! The title originally caught my eye because Rainbow's End is the name of New Zealand's one and only theme park. Your version was nothing like it!.

And I loved Shadowed by Grace - I knew nothing about the Monuments Men, so I especially enjoyed the way you integrated the research so smoothly into the plot.

Cara Putman said...

Iola, you just made my day. Thank you for your kind comments! Just what I needed as I launch back into editing the next book.