When I started writing speakers kept saying: “Write what you know.” What I knew felt boring and insignificant. So I decided to research areas about which I knew nothing. I don’t know how many of you love to research things like character careers and settings, but it’s the part of brainstorming a new idea that I love. However, it’s easy to overdo and research an idea to death. I’m sure I could never write historical romances, because I’d have books on the time period piled high all over the house and I’d never get to writing. Even writing contemporary stories, I love to forage in bookstores for magazine articles and travel books that describe in vivid detail a place where I want to set a story.
Before the Internet became a treasure trove of information I used to write to the Chamber of Commerce in towns small or large that I’d selected for a setting. I would tell them I was thinking of relocating to their town and could they send me a packet of information. They always did. I never felt guilty about fibbing, because what they sent me enriched my story, and maybe enticed one of my readers to visit the city or town.
The packets contained more information than I could ever use. Maps, what jobs might be available, typical weather, major events, names of stores for shopping, agriculture, and sometimes famous people living or dead who’d come from there.
Now most towns and cities have Internet sites that give all that information, plus some have colored photos of ranches, farms or houses typical of the area.
My first choice is to visit a place and soak up the feel of the hustle and bustle, or even the lazy lifestyle if that’s why people choose to live there.
Restaurants and cafes are great spots to find an actual person willing to talk about the town. Most waitresses are happy to give you little known facts. Octogenarians sitting on park benches love to talk, and if they were born and raised in the place, they give you a rich history maybe not found in the travel guides.
But travel guides from Triple A have helped me enrich my stories, too. And buying a Fodor book on any given state is research money well spent. They do a fantastic job of dividing a state into sections, with enlarged maps, historic and information written by recent travelers. I can soon fill a notebook and several folders with pages of facts. Facts I may never use, or some could trickle into a book.
I have file cabinets full of newspaper articles from small town papers that may have caught my attention even if I only picked the paper up at breakfast when I was passing through. Some of those simply talk about local fairs, concerts, special days celebrated by local residents. Those are files I need to clean out regularly and hate to do. But when the drawers start bulging and no longer close, I know it’s time to pull up a waste basket. Then I have to decide what may still be relevant and what’s not. I have an eclectic library of books, such as Amazing Horse Facts and Trivia, National Wildlife magazines, and Western Horseman. Oh and I love a series called: Off the Beaten Path---you fill in the state. I like books on medicine, both holistic and physician. I have the PDR and the Merck Manual. I buy slang and visual dictionaries. (Why, I’m not sure) I love wandering in the psychology section of Barnes and Noble. I have books on love and hate and everything in between. Books on character and emotional traits. Crime facts and medicinal plants. Oh, and I have stacks of reports on activism both political and environmental. I’m running out of book shelves and at times it’s tough to decide what to do with all the trivia that sticks in my head.
But the upshot of me writing about this is to say I can easily bury myself in research which can set back the time it would otherwise take me to write a book proposal. So tell me, am I alone in having this bad research habit, or do some of you get lost in planning too?