In the process of writing my manuscript, one of my favorite tasks, the one I thought would be so boring, was doing the research. Depending on the story, research can be surprising, intimidating, unnerving, intriguing, funny, heartwarming, or scary. However, it’s always enlightening. And, an enlightened writer is an interesting writer.
The most unnerving research I’ve done was for a paranormal story about ghosts and possession. One of my Google trips led me to a book by Gerald Daniel Brittle, The Demonologist, the Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warren’s most well-known investigation happened in Amityville, NY. Readers and moviegoers alike (I read the book and saw a couple of the movies) will remember The Amityville Horror. Oooh, I still get a chill thinking about it.
During that investigation, Ed and Lorraine confounded the press with the information that although they found a spirit present at the house, there was no ghost. Huh? The ensuing explanation of the difference between the two, ruined my sleep for quite a few nights. Apparently a ghost is the essence of a deceased human being. A spirit, on the other hand, is not and never has been human. My imagination went wild with that information. For someone who believes in otherworldly visits, this book would be difficult to read. (I skipped over a lot.)
Happily, all my online inquiries don’t end up with frayed nerves. Some are actually fun. For instance, I enjoyed digging into some history for my current manuscript. What do you know about labyrinths? One of the local churches here in town has one that I had the pleasure of visiting. I learned that a labyrinth is considered to be a guided spiral path, designed to bring peace and serenity to an individual.Usually, the path is lined with stones on the bare ground. Some people, however, have taken the labyrinth to greater heights. Their paths resemble a maze with twists and turns, but they never branch off the original path. That’s the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. A maze is a puzzle meant to confuse whereas a labyrinth is a gentle conduit that leads to serenity and peace.
During my research forays, I sometimes get a little lost. With so many interesting offshoots from my original goal, time gets away from me. But, the side trips often bring me the most interesting information. For instance, I found that some Labyrinths date back to the Neolithic period. Though their purpose is a mystery, numerous stories indicate that people used labyrinths for protection from the forces of nature.
Through the years, in many different countries, all kinds of mystic properties have been attributed to these places. Even as late as the 1950’s in northern Sweden, a man was seen in one labyrinth performing a ritual to protect fishermen. Much earlier stories warned if you walked to the center of the Labyrinth, “bad luck people” would accompany you, so you should race to your boat and put out to sea as soon as possible. I loved this myth and used a version of it in my story. I took out the fishermen and the antagonists gremlins.
In my treks around the net, I’ve poked through many strange stories, from the Oak Island Money Pit to Indian mythical ancestors. Most of my manuscript inspiration came from nuggets I gleaned while taking sharp detours from my original online search. It happens to me all the time. I’m out there looking for something specific, and I come across a fascinating piece of information. I can’t help myself. Invariably I follow the trail.
Guilt used to hound me at the end of one of these trips. Until, that is, I realized that chasing one of these improbable white rabbits gave me an interesting twist for my manuscript. Now, if I find an appealing tidbit, I pursue it. Various odd bits of information have led me to change the whole thrust of my story, more than once, and the result has been very satisfactory. Because my writing has paranormal or fantasy elements, I’ve enjoyed imbuing my work with a slice of history topped with a dollop of lively imagination. Fun for me and, I hope, for my readers.
My advice? Don’t be afraid to lose yourself in your research. One of those strange and interesting little links might be the plot for your next book.
Remember, keep writing.