Friday, December 12, 2014

Research, Research, Research

I love Janet's blog about organization. I decided to follow her advice and clean out and organize my computer. Lots of old website and blogspot addresses need to be cleared away (especially the ones that no longer exist.) 

As I was wading through some of my (and others) old writing articles, I thought about the value of research and how much time it would save all of us. 

Referring to novels: we know (pretty much) where our novels take place, who our characters are, where they live (or we have a vague idea of the building, apartment, house) where they live. Don't we? We have a vague idea (unless we're really brilliant and can either panzer off-the-cuff or outline first) what will happen to them. Where the plot is going. Its theme. The characters goals, motivations, conflicts and resolution, don't we? (hint, hint)

But, do we know, I mean really know who they are? What are their character traits? How they dress? How they look? In detail, what their dwellings look like? Who are those villains and what are their histories? What makes a serial killer? What events triggered their mad responses to life? Do they have any good in them? The'd better have something, because if they don't, they'll be two dimensional. Everyone of us has a good side and a bad side. I do. I'll be the first to admit the fact. In Waterlilies Over My Grave, the villain Duncan Byrne saved a girl's life when her sole support and roof-over-her-head dies. The fact that he later tries to push her in front of a train doesn't help his image any.  

Why character trait? Because what our habits and personality show us is how we'll respond. An example: My character Elena has a habit of walking out of uncomfortable situations, especially when she's angry. In "Legacy of Danger", she walks out on such a situation and gets kidnapped. If I didn't show that side of her earlier, it wouldn't have made her response to this flight and fight for her life scene as realistic. 

It also makes a difference if you have an image of her character. Maggie in "Arms of the Enemy" has strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. If I didn't have a firm grip on the way she looks, she'd end up having green eyes in chapter 20 and someone--some brilliant reader--would catch it. Trust me, they would. 

Where are they? In "Legacy", much of the novel takes place in Romania. Romania has earthquakes. As a reader, you need to know, maybe in dialogue and history that earthquakes took place hundreds of years ago and that they'd had one recently. That will make a later scene more viable when the characters meet one, trying to escape. 

In other words, if someone is killed with a sword, you'd probably better show the thing hanging on the wall over the fireplace. Otherwise, where the heck did it come from? 

You get the idea. Research can be tedious, but it can also be fascinating. Writing about Romania has been a "writing" lifetime of experiences. I never was in that country, but I did live in Germany for a few years. And, I've done research on the culture. The old farmer driving his cows home in the shadow of a mountain with a cross and a small chapel on its peak. It was a glorious picture. 

So, do a casting call. Find a star or celebrity you could picture as your character and tack him and her on your wall. Write down your descriptions from the color of their hair, their eyes, their clothes, their hobbies, favorite meals and drinks, favorite colors, to their history and everyday lives and put the page(s) in a notebook or someplace you can get quick access. 

You'll be glad you did. 

Have a great day. 


Micki Peluso is the author of "And the Whippoorwill Sang" said...

Very good post and somethingto remember even in short stories. I have a tendency to get so absorbed in dialogue and emotion that describing my characters drsss and where they are is often neglected.


Patricia A. Guthrie said...

Thanks Micki. Even in short stories you can add enough background and description to make the plot line believable. But, we have to be careful in short stories not to put in too much that it overwhelms the story. Oh, but I'm preaching to the choir. LOL You've outdone me in the short story department.