Guess what? I’ve got a brand new guest blogger I’d like to introduce you to today. Julie Goebel and I have been blog followers of each other and Twitter friends for some time now. And I finally nagged, twisted her arm, invited her to do a guest post. I was thrilled when she consented. Julie’s got an ultra sexy muse who sometimes keeps her too focused on her WIP— when he’s not pub crawling with my own muse, Mr. Evening.
Anyway, I gave her free rein to pick a topic of her choice, and I think she came up with a subject of importance to all writers. I hope you’ll give her a friendly welcome!
Thanks to Mae for inviting me to her blog. I asked her what she wanted me to write about. She let me pick my subject.
I warned her 🙂
Then my Muse warned me.
Gawd, he sure has a way of taking the fun out of mischievous intent. So, since Mae’s first Point Pleasant novel is due out soon, I thought I’d use her posts about her travels to Mothman territory for inspiration.
One of the fun things about writing is the research. Let’s face it, learning new stuff is like exploring a forest with any number of trails. You follow one path, which leads off to a different path, and before you know it, you find yourself hacking through the underbrush in pursuit of a tidbit you didn’t know you needed.
Research helps us give our stories authenticity, which gains the reader’s trust. Inaccuracies will jar a reader out of the story and create doubt about the writer. Remember the scene in Die Hard 2, where McLean lights a fuel trail from the plane? The flame raced to the plane and BOOM! Wrong. Jet fuel doesn’t burn like that—it’s more like diesel fuel or kerosene than gasoline. If I hadn’t worked in the aviation maintenance industry, I could’ve believed that would really happen
And it was a good movie–up to that point. Actually, there were a lot of aviation things the movie got wrong. On second thought, maybe not such a good movie.
Depending on the type of fiction, some details can be fabricated. You make the rules in fantasy and science fiction. If, however, you are setting your story in contemporary times, or a real time or place in history, research is vital to make the world of your story believable to your readers. If your small town in North Dakota is based on a real town, you’d better make sure your character doesn’t go to the mall in that town if there is no mall there in real life.
Some might say Google is a writer’s best friend. It is a great tool for conducting research, and the Internet offers more information at your fingertips than a lot of small-town libraries. But before the days of Google and Wikipedia, writers did research the old-fashioned way: interviewing people who know the subject, visiting the locations in the story, and maybe trying things out on their own.
Going to the locations in your story allows you to see the area for yourself, taste the flavor of the area, and get a feel for the community and atmosphere. My host, Mae Clair, traveled to where the Mothman inhabits local legends when researching for her Point Pleasant series. I don’t know if she actually saw the infamous Mothman, but she’s posted a picture of his statue.
Best-selling author Christine DeSmet made many trips to Door County, WI to research her Fudge Shop Mystery series. She visited the lighthouse featured in her second book of the series, and toured the church spotlighted in the third book. One of her biggest sacrifices—she learned how to make fudge. I understand her coworkers were quite happy to help her perfect her recipes!
The vast plains of Saskatchewan, with wheat fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, have a different feel than Door County or the wilds where the Mothman haunts. Author Ceone Fenn traveled to Canada and interviewed museum curators and historians to learn the idiosyncrasies of grain elevators and trucks from the early 20th century for her story.
Researching on-site isn’t limited to books for grown-ups. Middle-grade author Bibi Belford toured the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago for her soon-to-be released MG book about the Chicago race riots. Though the riots took place in the 1920s, the lake remains, along with memorials dedicated to those who lost their lives.
Technology these days makes it far easier to reach distant areas of the world that or connect with people who know about the subjects you need to learn. What better way to check the accuracy of a crime scene or the process of an investigation than to ask a retired detective. Need to find out what it’s like to have a pet ferret? Ask the members of your Facebook writing group (who, by the way, are very willing to help). What about Australian slang? You could use Google to find a reference for slang, or you could touch base with a real Australian through your Facebook writing group.
Not only can you gain knowledge for your story through research, you can meet some awesome people along the way. A wonderful thing about the writing community is the willingness of writers to help each other. We have a network of resources at our disposal that rivals Google, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Pen name: J. M. Goebel A fiction writer since elementary school and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, Julie has been published in small press magazines such as “Fighting Chance” and “The Galactic Citizen”. She currently has two novels ready for the world (but without representation at this point), and a number of others waiting their turn. She writes adult mystery with extrasensory elements, mystery with a touch of romance, and fantasy (contemporary and traditional). In real life she is a technical writer with a wonderful hubby, two teenagers, cats, dogs, chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. Her hobbies include writing, reading, gardening, and searching for her wayward sanity.