Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wondering about Research

If you've ever wondered about how a writer researches to write a book. Here are some of my recent adventures.
My new project is set in Portland, Maine. It involves gun smuggling, a good topic for a port city. Lots of my research can be done on the Internet, but some has to be direct, in person. So I needed to see locations and picture events there. Portland has the nearest airport to where I live, so it was convenient to visit prior to a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit friends. First, I went to the Old Port, the renovated part of the old city that has trendy shops, restaurants, and condos on the waterfront. I walked around the docks and took picture after picture with my trusty digital camera. Then I drove farther along the harbor toward the more industrial section so I could figure out where my murder takes place. I found a really spooky spot beneath a bridge but I have to go back at night to see how dark it is. I may freak myself out. My final stop was in the West End, to check the neighborhood where my heroine lives and to choose a building for her. While there, I had a brainstorm for a scene of the villain chasing her as she jogs on the Western Promenade, a paved walking trail overlooking the harbor. Now I need to go to direct sources--a cop, a Marine Patrol Officer, and someone in the port authority.
That's it. Researching can be fun, but it can suck a writer in so you want to put it all in the book. I have to rein myself in.


Nancy Herkness said...

Susan, I'm laughing because you should see the nine gazillion photos I took of a small town in Alaska because I decided it would be the perfect location for an action/thriller novel--and I don't write that kind of book! I truly got sucked into the research that day. But it was fun and who knows? Someday I may get the urge to have bullets and bodies flying around the pages of my manuscript.

Samantha Hunter said...

Susan, I set a book in Portland (About Last Night...) as well, and I remember walking along the cobblestone paths of Old Port and finding exactly the place where my hero takes a header over the rail into the water... ;)

I love on-site research like that, and in fact, have only written on book about a place I've never been and it was very difficult. Actually, I shouldn't say never - I had been to the desert once, but in California, and I set my book in the same desert, but in Arizona.

I did pull on my memories and pictures, and then I set about finding people who lived in that area, luckily one writer in particular who lived on a ranch where she raised horses and she provided me tons of insight and info about desert ranching, even though she was in Nevada. So I did do a lot of online research for the AZ geography, and I felt a little iffy about that, but I think it came together. I'm much happier to write about places I can actually visit, tho.

The digital camera is a blessing and a curse -- if you could only see the hundreds of pictures in files I have now from locations, in case I need them for setting -- take pictures of the funniest things, yes, alleys and doorways, and streetcorners, LOL.

For some things, I do book and library research, and talk to folks where I need to, but I think it really can contribute special little bits of reality that make the fantasy of a story all the stronger...


Nancy Morse said...

I love doing research, mainly because of the useless facts, oddities and tidbits I uncover that have nothing to do with the book I'm writing, but would probably land me in the finals on Jeopardy.

Laura Drewry said...

As a writer of historical westerns, a great deal of my research is done through reading, but a few years back, I tagged along with my DH on a business trip to Tucson and had the fabulous opportunity to visit Tombstone. What an amazing little town that is! I've got pictures up the proverbial yard-arm, and a reprint of the newspaper following the big shoot out. Research through reading is one thing. Research through seeing is entirely different. :)