Happy Saturday, Musers and Muse Readers.
I remember, back in school, researching for upcoming essays and projects. It was my favourite part of the assignment, never the actual writing and putting together the material. If you think all that research learning ends once you're done school, sorry, it continues, especially for a writer.
Today our MG/Tween/YA/New YA authors share their research.
It really depends. For my upcoming YA fantasy, I ended up going to a travel agency and went over what the costs would be for a trip Paris. I also used the internet, read memoirs, bugged family and friends who either live or been to Paris, and read A LOT.
I also watched all of Audrey Hepburn movies to get into my protagonist’s head. AH is her idol.
For my latest project, I looked into cults and also read some historical tellings of my own ancestors who fled Missouri and Kirtland, Ohio and crossed the plains to settle Deseret or Utah.
I usually get my research from reaching out to others, reading, going to the sites or ones close enough (the recent trip to the Grand Canyon for one), and searching the internet. If in doubt, I ask. This was how I found that a scene from one of my books—CROSSED OUT—in fact had an offensive scene to Muslims. My Muslim BIL pointed it out to me and then helped me rewrite that scene with a more realistic view of his faith.
When I started writing my first novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, I was writing about a girl who had an eating disorder. My own daughter was exhibiting signs of bulimia, but I wanted to know how people who live with it or have overcome it, felt. So I was in a group of teachers at that time who were interested in writing. I put out an email asking that anyone who has had an eating disorder send me anything they could about their experience. It was anonymous and though I had the email addresses to continue corresponding if necessary, I never found out to whom I was speaking. These emails were the basis of the discussion the girls have in the book, if you have read it. I made sure to verify everything people told me and to get their permission to use it.
The other thing I had to research for that novel is the gymnastics. Jennifer is a gymnast and I had no experience with that. However, I have watched the Olympics a lot and have followed the judging of the gymnasts. I read a lot about gymnasts and I watched their movements very carefully to make sure I knew what they could do. I used this to show Jennifer’s movements. In the sequel to this novel, which is coming soon, I needed to have even more knowledge of gymnastics. In this one Jennifer is the main character so it is very important that the reader doesn’t get taken out of the moment by something that is not what a gymnast would do.
For my next book, After, there is a sweet sixteen party and it was supposed to be over the top. So on TV there was a show that was actually about girls who were having fabulous sweet sixteen parties. Usually they were from well to do families and had parents who wanted to give them everything they wanted. The parties were so elaborate I couldn’t believe them. I took parts of each party to create Amber’s extravagant sweet sixteen. Everything I put into that party was taken from real parties with real girls including the entrance scene for any who have read the book.
For NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) I wrote an adult story with lots of action and changes of venue. I had to research the country and still have not finished researching it, because it is a place that is pretty volatile. I also have to research the lab where the character works and what scientists working undercover can and can’t do without causing problems for themselves. As a result this book is not finished due to the fact I don’t feel comfortable sending it out without verifying anything.
I love research, but sometimes I can get so carried away with it that I forget what project I am working on. The only way I can combat my obsession is to make a list of exactly what I am looking for first. Once the list is made, I start gathering everything I need. For both my non-fiction book and my upcoming first tween novel, set in the 1800s, historical accuracy was especially important. With that in mind, I divided my research into three categories: Diaries, government documents, and historical pictures; newspaper articles and books; and, firsthand personal experience.
With my novel, Search for the Red Ghost, that meant analyzing pioneer diaries, official reports on the event, the place, and the era, reading newspaper accounts, reviewing historical maps, and finally, getting my hands dirty, so to speak. The last one was my favorite. Since my novel is about a young boy tracking a creature through the desert with only a 1873 Winchester for company, I walked a desert, fired a Winchester, and brushed up on my tracking skills. I like to really know what something feels like if I can before I write about it. If it's impossible to experience it myself, then I do the next best thing and talk to the experts. One last thought, when researching I keep a separate notebook to jot down ideas for future projects with a complete record of where to find the resource again. I never know where a tidbit of information might lead.
I love research and could spend hours doing it. Most of my time is spent trolling through websites online, searching out the random bits of information I need to flesh out scenes in my books. Sometimes it's a type of monster, or a Fae god, other times it might be a class at a given grade level or a book read in high school. I try to verify the accuracy of my information by looking at two or more sites.
In addition to online searching, I also ask my teen and other teens about word choices, clothing, or general things to make sure the words I'm using are accurate for the age of my characters and the situations they are in.
One is to invent the place, which means that the only accuracy has to be internal, where the geography of the invented city/country makes sense and is consistent. The airport can't be in the north and then in the west three chapters later, for example, or three books later, in the case of my invented City of my werewolf trilogy, the first part of which is published and the two remaining parts are waiting patiently on my laptop for a second draft makeover.
There are cases where the story just can't fit anywhere but an invented location. For my YA paranormal novel The Soul of Adam Short, I had the idea in a fixed location of the suburbs of Dublin, Ireland, and I knew that it would be difficult to find a place in Dublin that would make sense in terms of the timeline in the story compared to the real life of the city, so I translocated it to an invented town of Bentham in the middle of England.
I am currently writing a YA novel set in the south of Dublin city and it's hinterland, and it's hard to keep things accurate. I find I have to be vague, too, to avoid implicating residents of places that might be relatively easy to find on Google Maps! I also use that tool to make sure my memory of the place is correct, and they haven't redesigned the roads since I was last there!
The second method applies to the science and wildlife descriptions. For these I rely a lot on my memory of things I learned at school, in university, and I picked up along the way from scientific journals and documentaries. Most of these are accurate, and I verify any that are in any way hazy by googling the original source of my info, or by asking a friend or two who are more familiar with that field than I - for example, in my novel, The Ecology of Lonesomeness, the character is studying (among other things) otters in the rivers around Loch Ness. I knew a few things about the animals, but I have some friends who work in fishery biology and with nature conservancies who've a lot more experience and they gave me pointers.
Thirdly is to have someone read the work to find the small inaccuracies in dialogue and speech that always creep in. Though many of my characters are Irish, like me, some are English, some Scottish, some from various parts of the United States. Each location has its own idiosyncrasies, which you might not be consciously aware of, but which will strike a reader as out of character. I never knew that Irish people say the word "so" so often, but I've had dozens of them excised from the speech of a character from Boston, despite my best efforts to imbue him with the spirit of my friends from there. Luckily, said friends can spot such mistakes and make it better. Which is why the beta reader is the writer's best friend, after himself or herself and self-confidence - and of course, editors!
Keep reading and dreaming. If there’s anything you’re curious about just drop me a note: MuseChrisChat@gmail.com