Friday, February 02, 2007

The Construction Zone - 3. Research

Today's post won't be super long, because IMO you shouldn't over do research.

Did that get your attention? I hope so. Because research IS necessary. And it can be annoying and tedious or great fun. Or a blend of both. For sake of familiarity, I'm going to stick with research for what I write - contemporary romance. If you are writing suspense, you need to research things like forensics. Procedure. Possibly even profiling. And ask my crit partner Michelle Styles about research for historicals. I for one, don't know how she does it. But contemporary is different.

The bulk of any research I do is based mostly on two things. 1. Where the story is taking place, and 2. The professions of the characters. My theory is you will do all your research and approximately 10% will actually make it into you story.

Setting: This can be fun or an utter drag. And since I'm going to tackle setting in a future post, I'll give you the lowdown on what you need to know. If you're creating your own town, you need to model it after something in the nearby area. If you're setting your book on the US East Coast, things are going to look a little different than they do in, say, the midwest. Once you have the basics, though, you can create whatever you want to go in your town or city.

If you're basing your story in a real place, however, you need to be a little more accurate. My first 2 Romances are set in and around the town of Sundre in Alberta. I know much more about Sundre than ever makes it into the book. But little details...for example, the main drag is actually Main Avenue and not Main Street - those all add authenticity. And researching the town was fun. It's about an hour and a half away, so I made a few visits, visited the museum, talked to a lady at the town office, and took my kids on a picnic. :-) I also visited the town website and googled Sundre, looking for interesting pictures and happenings. I kept my description of the rodeo vague, but there IS a pro-rodeo there every June. Those are researched details that made it in.

The bulk of my research is professions. Being a farm girl, the ranch thing wasn't too difficult. But with the book I just handed in, my hero was a former sniper in the Canadian Military. And this is where the internet community comes in really handy. I had questions ranging from uniforms to rank to equipment...and after putting out a call on e-harlequin, was contacted by a WONDERFUL resource who answered all my questions. In fact, I wasn't completely sure how the book was going to end until I brainstormed with Doug. But I ran into a problem. I really wanted to get the details right, so I read several articles on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I read a book on Peace Keeping and another on the Friendly Fire incident a few years back in Afghanistan. Plus all my e-mails back and forth to Doug and his wife. And there were times that the details simply just started to take over. The whole idea was so fascinating to me that I got carried away, and I simply had to stop, cut some things, rediscover my focus.

The good news is that I learned a lot from the draft of Home Fires. Mostly about what NOT to do. Just ask my CP, I worked her like a dog. Now, I'm starting a new story and this one is a US Marshal. I have a research source again - a friend who is a Marshal in the States. But while getting the information is wonderful and frankly really interesting, I know I have to use a much lighter hand in the new book. And that leads into the topic of focus, which we'll discuss once we get into the actual writing and the meat of the thing.

On a side note....I don't have time to find my ticker thingy but I lost 4 lbs in January. Slow, but steady I guess. At least it's going in the right direction.

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