Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Writers, Try This at Home 12 -- In-person research

So much is available online. Just google and you get all the answers, right? And it is amazing how much is available in terms of databases with primary documents, experts at hand to answer questions, and videos of places you never been.

It's all great, and I would say invaluable in terms of planning your investigations and digging into otherwise inaccessible realms (such as the past). However, too much dependence on the Web can rob your work of zest and immediacy. Obviously, the Internet does not serve all of your senses. If you want to describe the smell of incense at Midnight Mass, a Wikipedia entry won't do. The best virtual reality available won't give you the experience of shaking someone's hand and looking them in the eye. And while you might not seek out the feelings you get from riding a subway at two in the morning, doing so will make your skin crawl in ways that a video on YouTube never could.

Since you may be out of practice dealing with the real world, try to do one of these each week, even if you can't use them in your current work:
  •  If you find yourself waiting somewhere, pull out a pad to record your environment. Write in full sentences. Include all the senses. And pay attention to the people. See if a few can be captured in 50 words or less. If you can recreate the mood of the locale, that will pay dividends as you compose your fiction. By the way, you don't have to just record locations you end up in randomly, you can choose to go to a museum or a park or even a subway.
  • Interview an expert. I'll make this easy on you: Come up with a topic that intrigues you and create a series of questions that dig into the subject, and then talk to a librarian. (I haven't met a librarian yet who doesn't love this sort of thing, though you might want to make an appointment.) Or you can be more daring and arrange to interview someone who is directly related to your area of interest -- a doctor, scientist, politician, prison guard. It's likely you have a neighbor with an interesting job, so consider that option as well.
  • Do something that could be used in a story. I like things related to work. A ride-along with the local police, a tour of a brewery, or attending a band rehearsal might be good. Think crafts. Think courses that are hands-on. Or volunteer to do something useful in the community like cleaning up a park.
Get out there. Learn to record experiences. Then, when you have become proficient, make in-person research part of you writing process.

As for the practice above? Save your results. Though you may not have a use for this information now, you could in the future. One of my exercises aimed at writing anywhere was the first. Now I have a collection of notes to draw upon whenever I find myself in a locale that is relevant to a story.
I just sent out issue three of my newsletter, Productive Writing. Want to subscribe? Just send a note to howtowritefast@gmail.com with Subscribe in the subject line.  I'll add you to the mailing list. And if you want any of the published issues, just let me know. I'm happy to send you copies.

Issue 3: Out of Your Comfort Zone
Issue 2: Speed Date Your Character
Issue 1: Plotting Help

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