I don’t know how to do that

Research is mandatory. For any and everything. Not just to learn something new, but to brush up on something once learned.

There is temptation to research the crap out of something, get excited than brow beat the reader with all that glorious knowledge. I try to avoid this. I’ve been told that about 90% of what you learn on any particular subject won’t or shouldn’t make it into the book. Now I’m not talking about the main subject matter. Like if the book is about motorcycles, then sure there should be more than 10% on the machines.

What I’m talking about are the things or nuances in a book that make it real and interesting.  Do I know how to fly a plane? Nope, but with a bit of research I could have someone in my book be a pilot with just enough information to make it believable. Because I’m not a pilot nor do I know any personally I would keep that as a minor character trait. Maybe even a hobby. Elude to it, maybe use flying a plane as part of the story. But if I learn all there is to know, then proceed to attempt to educate the readers on what each button and gauge does, it wont go well.  I can practically hear the covers being slammed shut just thinking about it.

For me there are my main reasons to research

Learn something new

How to fly a plane or what do people who fly planes do? videos, texts, other stories. Everyone does this type of research
What does the interior of the penthouse suite look like at a hotel? Most hotels have virtual tours or numerous images online to work off of.
What does a one room apartment look like in an apartment? I’d look up rentals and go for a virtual tour.
Google maps is my favorite tool for getting a peek at a destination I may not have personally visited. Go for a google street walk. Don’t forget to note the traffic or people. 

Remind of something old or once known

I know how to fish, but sometimes I need a reminder on what bait to use and when.
Familiar places can come back to life with a return visit or a google street view visit.
I remember being in school, but times have changed. Interviewing kids or teachers can be a great asset to a fresher look on a classroom etc.


Get better description

I employ my FAB approach (See blog The FAB pencil)  Sure I know what cars look like but a specific one? Dealerships and manufactures often have detailed descriptions.
Take a car out for a test drive. 
Hire a limo for the night
Go to a similar destination or event that happens in your book. The park, the theater, a restaurant. Whatever or wherever, visit with fresh eyes, open ears and a clear nose. 
I’ve never seen a live rat up close. Maybe a trip to a pet store is in order. 

Get a better understanding

I may not know the in and outs of a particular mental illness or behavior. Books, documentaries and interviewing a psychiatrist or afflicted person can be an invaluable research tool.
I Have no idea how to fix flat tire. Sure I’ve seen it in movies… if I really needed more information its out there. You Tube, the local mechanic. 

I have no clue how to start a fire if stranded in the woods. But my one character should… 

If I don’t know, I research. I may only use a tidbit of what I learned but knowing more than necessary allows me as the writer to use that wee tidbit effectively and correctly.

I think its neat how  open people become when you say. “Hey I’m writing a novel and I have a Police officer character. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  Not every person will be willing to sit down to a full length interview. But from asking several cops different questions I not only got my answers, but I also got alternate perspectives.

If you do plan or get an interview, be prepared. Ask questions you know will get you the information you need to write your scene. Remember I wouldn’t go on and on and on about how pepper spray is attached to the vest, nor how it’s exactly used, feels, smells, or tastes. But if I need to touch on one of those aspects to enrich a moment then it was worth it.

I’ve never had white-hot chocolate. Maybe I’d get some and FAB it. Then ask others what they think of it… What I like/dislike and why will not be the same as someone else’s reaction/opinion.  Sometimes my research is spontaneous. I see something new or interesting and I take a closer look or inspect it further. I use my instinct to alert me to potential plot fodder.

My advice about research.
Do it. Take notes. Open your eyes, listen, feel, smell and taste. Learn and try. Make it fun and even try new things. Research isn’t all books and lectures.

-Sheryl

Related blog posts worth reading:

The FAB pencil

Details, details, details

How did that sound?

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 Instinct

The FAB pencil

What’s so FAB about it? It’s just a lame pencil.

Or is it? I have gone through some nifty retail sales training. You know the kind that teaches you to sell your soul to the devil to make the sale. Up-sell, up-sell, up-sell.

I no longer wonder how they do it, how they smoothly transition you from buying the watch to including the warranty, the battery replacement program, the matching belt and shiny new car. I don’t wonder, because I know.

FAB Feature Advantage Benefit. Oddly, this applies nicely to describing something in writing. The lesson is to take an ordinary item say… a super lame ordinary No.2 pencil and show the customer something they can see, touch or smell about it. Then explain the advantage of the feature and smoothly move into how it benefits the customer.

The feature: it has No.2 lead
The advantage: No.2 writes smoothly
The benefit: consistent writing

Feature: built-in eraser
Advantage: erases efficiently
Benefit: saves time having to search for an eraser

F: seamless wood design
A: easy to sharpen
B: no slivers or sharp bits

F: bright yellow paint
A: easy to see
B: hard to lose

These things seem obvious right? Maybe, but now they are clearly stuck in your head. How does this apply to describing items in a story? If you give a purpose to an item then it makes sense. If it’s horribly random then its distracting to the reader. If anything, it will help give an object depth. Even a yawn worthy pencil. I do this with items my characters interact with that are important or interesting.

Sasha plopped the yellow pencil’s end in her mouth. Scrunching her face she removed it instantly. The rubbed-rubber taste reminding her of the party she went to instead of studying. She set the flattened tip to the paper to mark her answer. Only to rub it out second-guessing herself again.

Sasha jumped when the bell rang. She stared wide-eyed at the paper, a test failed before it was marked. Less than half the questions answered. Gripping the pencil in her hands, she tightened her grip, snapping the light wood easily.

My advice about describing things.
Instead of just blurting out what it is with a standard ‘it’s blue’ description, dig deeper and see what it has to offer the user then the interaction between the object and user is more fluid. Be cautious that you don’t go overboard describing an item to the point of excess. Less is more.

-Sheryl

 

Other posts

More is less, and vice versa.

It’s funny you said that…

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Obvious

Plop