Hi, SeERs! It’s another Mae Day on Story Empire 🙂
I know research has been discussed multiple times, including some brilliant posts by my colleagues at SE, but I hope you’ll indulge me with my take on the subject.
Digging deep into research is something all writers face. No matter your story arc or characters, sooner or later you’re bound to run into a subject that requires deeper knowledge. As an example, it’s hard to write a believable airline pilot or land developer, if you don’t know how they operate. We all know the internet is a great resource, but you can only go so far in tracking down information. Ideally, if you’re researching a profession, speaking to someone in that career is going to net the best return. Pretty much a no brainer.
What about settings? It’s hard to visit Sedona, Arizona for your romantic suspense set among red rock country, when you live in Vermont. Harder still, to hop on a plane and fly to Scotland for your time-travel, or Romania for your paranormal. Once again, talking to someone who has visited these places is a great asset—a gold mine if you can connect with someone who has lived there. Short of that, there’s nothing wrong with the internet, libraries, and bookstores.
If you’re fortunate enough to live within a reasonable distance, consider visiting the location you’ve chosen for your book. I generally fictionalize towns in my novels based upon areas I know. River towns, lake towns, and coastal settings show up frequently because I know those best. There is, however, great reward in setting your book in an actual locale.
My Point Pleasant novels are set in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a location about six hours from where I live. I wove a great deal of history and local folklore into the three books that comprise the series. By the time I started writing the first novel, A Thousand Yesteryears, I had devoured multiple books and documentaries about the Mothman and the historic collapse of the Silver Bridge. I’d scoured the internet and had pages upon pages of notes. Something was still missing.
That’s when I convinced my husband a long weekend trip was in order. We made two of those over two years as the series grew. By the time A Cold Tomorrow and A Desolate Hour released, I felt I knew the town and its surroundings well, but had I done them justice?
Multiple reviewers who grew up in the area commented that I had captured the small town feel, history, economics, and folklore well. I couldn’t ask for better. It’s a bit scary playing with an actual setting. A huge relief when local residents give it a thumbs-up.
During one visit to Point Pleasant, a resident told me she could spot visitors immediately by the way they pronounced “Gallipolis”—the town joined to Point Pleasant by the Silver Bridge. If you’re curious, it’s pronounced “galla-police.” I experienced a little thrill that I had said it correctly. Then again, after two years of research, it was drilled into my head!
Cusp of Night, the first book in my new Hode’s Hill series is set in a fictional river town (loosely based upon one I know well). The story utilizes past and present timelines, with the past built around the Spiritualism movement of the late nineteenth century. I couldn’t very well talk to a practicing medium of the 1800s and—since the book addresses tricks used in fraud séances—I certainly didn’t want to approach anyone practicing today! Once again, the internet and bookstores became my friends. I still managed to gain authenticity through the extensive research I did. I could talk for hours about the practices of sham mediums, magicians, and carnival performers of the time. Maybe there is danger when you find your research utterly fascinating. I didn’t use half of what I learned, but all that knowledge made me feel confident when it came time to tackle the writing.
Where do you draw the line with research? How much time do you invest? Have you ever visited an actual location solely for the purpose of novel research? If so, did you find it helped with your writing? I’d love to hear some of your go to practices and sources for research.
Ready, set, go!