Saturday, August 27, 2011

Research (And How To Avoid It)

I am a bit of a nomad. I just moved for like the 27th time in my life. I'd like to settle down for good one day and NOT HAVE TO UNPACK ANY MORE BOXES, but the timing's never been quite right.
Some day...

From the Department of Silver Linings, the good thing - from a writer's perspective - about all this moving and living in different places, is that you get to see things, learn things, maybe even pick up a little bit o' Life Wisdom. Which you can then use in your writing! Score.

Some writers, I hear, do a ton of research. Blechhh. Is it just me, or are those people DEADLY to sit next to at dinner parties? No, seriously, if that's what needs to be done to write a good story, then go to it. I have been fortunate, I guess, in that Life On This Planet has provided me with 99% of what I've needed so far to write 3 1/2 novels. SHADOW POINT was set in the place where I grew up. ROMEO FAILS draws on time I've spent in two small Midwestern towns and some personal experiences. HEAVENLY MOVES is perhaps the most autobiographical of the three. (of course I threw in a fictional murder to give it some pizzazz, since my real life is hell of boring)

But... it turns out I don't know everything. The protagonist in ROMEO FAILS is an accomplished carpenter and woodworker, two things I know zilch about. (I had to use a power tool this weekend while moving in and just about blew up the the whole dang building! Luckily, Scotch tape saved the day. And my security deposit.) But I read a book, watched a TV show, surfed the net and voila (well hopefully voila), I think I pulled it off.

HEAVENLY MOVES is a murder mystery. A friend's father who is a retired police officer kindly answered some of my procedural questions for that story. Another big part of that story is '80's rock'n'roll - I looked in the mirror and found my expert right there for that topic. I'd just gotten up, so even my hair was contributing by looking somewhat Flock of Seagulls-ish. (I know it's time for an intervention when it starts resembling Gary Oldman's 'do in "The Fifth Element.") Even the protagonist's new apartment in that novel is one of my old apartments, crazy trap doors and all.

You call it normal everyday life. I call it research.

I was going to say something about Truman Capote here, but I keep getting sidetracked by thoughts of "Murder By Death." (two two twain)

Getting back to research, though - you'll be amazed how much knowledge is available to you out there if you use your six degrees of separation. Even if you don't personally know the expert you're in need of, your friend's brother's cousin's neighbor no doubt does. Or one of your Facebook friends does. Many people are thrilled (believe it or not) to answer questions from a novelist. Even if you cold call an organization or person, you might just get what you need. That "Hi, I'm a writer working on a book about ___ and I'm hoping you can answer a question for me about ___" works like a charm an awful lot of the time.

Imagine how grueling research must have been pre-internet. (I love you, Wikipedia! I don't completely trust you, and you never call, but I love you!)

Is it possible to fake stuff when you're writing fiction? Of course it is! FICTION IS FAKE STUFF, PEOPLE.

Of course, this can lead to public ridicule. If you have no idea what real police officers (or chemists or tow truck drivers) say and do, it's probably best to not create a major character who is a police officer if you're not willing to do the research.

So, in conclusion (and inconsistence), I say: research shmesearch. Make it up. You're a writer, for crying out loud.

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