Sunday, March 22, 2009

But She Wears a Size Eight: What Writers Will Do for Research

My husband will be the first to tell you I’m not an outdoorsy girl. Sure, I live in Colorado, and I love the sunshine but day hiker and overnight camper I am definitely not. . . unless there’s a story afoot. If that’s the case, I’ll drag my hubby through the underbrush in Maine. Literally. I did. . . drag him through the underbrush in Maine. And he’s quite pleased to remind me of that fact if I complain about the mosquitoes in our backyard.

When a story is brewing in my brain, I become obsessed. I want to walk in the main character’s footsteps, suffer her trials, and understand her motives. An author owes it to the reader to be familiar with the setting and activities featured in the novel. Traveling might be necessary. Fortunately, now that air travel is so tedious, the experience always scores a point or two under the stressful life events column of an author’s repertoire. Pursuing new hobbies may be enlightening. My recent favorite endeavor was learning to fire a pistol. After taking a series of shooting and personal protection classes, I feel prepared for real life as well as literary challenges.

If “being there” simply is not possible, befriend experts. The Internet opens up endless possibilities. There’s a forum for just about everything - custom cars, knitting, smelting, pinochle, demolition – and the people who frequent these forums are more than happy to take the hand of a timid newbie and show her the ropes. I am especially grateful to nameless individuals who have shared stories of experiences I hope I never have to endure, revealing painful details made possible only by the anonymity of the Internet. For my latest manuscript, I spent one day reading stories of uncensored tragedies, one day writing, and the following three days recovering from the intense emotions.

Still, most of the time writing research is just plain fun. If I need to hunt for a body in the backwoods of Maine, then I roll up my sleeves and get to it. Damn the mosquitoes, full speed ahead. When I emerge, I feel like I’ve walked in the protagonist’s shoes for a few miles; I understand her better. And it’s worth it. Such an activity conquers even the most stubborn case of writer’s block, and the story flows more naturally. . . even if my feet are sore.


Meira Pentermann is the author of Firefly Beach, a paranormal cozy mystery, now available from Lyrical Press.


s.w. vaughn said...

Meira, this is great advice. Thanks so much for blogging with us!

Marta Stephens said...

Excellent advice, Meira. Most readers will never know how much time a write spends on research but will be able to spot it a mile away when it's not done.

Thanks for joining us on MB4!!

Kim Smith said...

My kinda writer!

Rose Pressey said...

My thoughts exactly. Your research skills show in Firefly Beach. It's a great book.

Meira Pentermann said...

Thanks Rose. Thanks everyone. This is a fun blogspot.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Meira, I love your writing style and am going to check out your book. Thanks for blogging with us!