Friday, June 29, 2012
Research for Results
Hey Scribblers! This post is for you.
This may sound obvious to you, but to me it's a fairly recent revelation: One of the best ways to interest a reader in your story is to tell them something interesting--better yet, to help them experience something new themselves. That makes sense: we don't want to read old news. Authors that write beyond the midlist write using the kinds of details we wouldn't have heard before. Details that interest us. I call these "specific details."
And how to we find such specific details?
Research makes a good story better. It can even make a prize-winning and/or bestselling story out of a good one. But many of us shudder at the picture of research that sits firmly engrained into our memories: us as students, sucking down coffee at our desks while our backs scream at us for hours of abuse.
Believe me, I know the feeling.
But! Research yields specific detail. And specific detail yields interest.
What would The Help be like without all the period detail? What if Kathryn Stockett had gotten the prejudice wrong? What if what she'd written applied more to a decade later?
A personal example: Right now, I'm reading a book for research, called The Beautiful Days of My Youth by Ana Novac, which is the diary of a 15 year old Jewish girl who lived through several concentration/death camps. She paints awful pictures of what he life was like by using specific incidents full of shocking specific details. One in particular will probably stay with me for a long time. She and her friend found pebbles in their rationed bread, and afterward spent hours trying to throw them back up. That kind of detail is very specific. Imagine eating pebbles in your bread. How would that feel? That detail puts the reader in her shoes. The writer experienced it herself, which is the most sure way to gain specific details; however, this is not something I would want to experience. Hence, research! It may or may not make it into the story I'm researching to write, but it is the pefect example for our topic, today.
But research can be fun, not just grueling. How?
One cool thing about writing, is that you get to write whatever you want. You can pick what interests you, and throw out the rest. That means the research you do will probably be about things that interest you. Right now, I'm reading about the Amish, Tribes of California, and Nazi officials.
And it truly is interesting! Sometimes, I'd rather read "candy" than "spinach" (novels rather than thick memoirs, "Pretties" rather than "The Nuremberg Interviews"), but I'm always glad I've read up, after I've done the work.
And there are lots of ways to go about researching, besides reading. Recently we went camping, which was a very fun sort of research (involving friends and s'mores!). Take trips, visit places, and try new things.
A little about my method, in case you're interested: I get several books from the library, and pick whichever sections pertain to my studies. I then take notes, and turn them back in. Some, I don't end up using. Others, I read completely. I also request DVDs from the library, and take notes on those. Internet searches cover other bases. During the reading and watching, I take notes in a notebook section entitled "research" (5 subject notebook from K-Mart). Then, I let it sit for a month, and stew in my mind. It needs to air out. Later, maybe a month, maybe more, I go through the research bit by bit, picking out what I want to use. You won't use all of it, but the prescious little details you've found add incredible depth to whatever you're writing. Sometimes, visiting a place for research is out of the question, but other times, it's easier and cheaper than you might think. Research that, too!
Don't be afraid to take some time for research. It could take a little perusal, or a long time of submersion. Dive right in!
Good luck with your writing, everyone!