Enjoying The Research

detectiveIn my first serious attempt at writing fiction, I decided to go with a mystery and an amateur sleuth. That type of book is called a Cozy.

I chose that genre because I’d read it for years. So, here’s what I did. In my mind I pictured the setting on the street where I grew up. The protagonist had two friends who were very much like my friends. And, the protagonist had a job in the same field I had worked. The only research I had to do was to find out how a murder would be investigated in my town.

As I worked and agonized about things like red herrings, I found elements of the paranormal sneaking in and found that I was more interested in the psychic aspects of the story than in the mystery. That’s when someone suggested I should write what I enjoy.

For all the emotional and physical energy expended in writing, it horrorseemed like the sensible thing to do. So, I wrote a ghost story and moved out of the realm of my comfort zone. I’ve never seen a ghost myself, but I’ve talked to people who have. When I changed the setting  from my home base to the neighboring town of Salem, MA, I realized that I needed to do a lot of research.

I began with the local libraries which had plenty of information about seventeenth and eighteenth century settings in the area. My ghost lived during that time. For information on demons and witchcraft, I relied on the internet, books, and first-hand accounts of strange happenings. You wouldn’t believe how many people have experienced ghostly encounters.  When I mentioned I was writing a ghost story to my class, many of my adult students regaled me with  scary stories. For the setting details, a friend and I walked the streets of Salem, looking at architecture, proximity to other settings, and local color. I enjoyed that part of the research best. We finished up at a local restaurant (one that appears in the book) for lunch.

My latest work is a fantasy set in the state of Rhode Island. I did live there for a while and I do know the area. However, my setting isn’t static. My protagonist moves around and I needed more research.

The main setting is Newport. Any historical information I needed was available on the internet. I wanted to have a Labyrinth as part of the story. Labyrinths are purported to have calming properties and, with a few clicks of the mouse, I found wonderful old myths that I was able to use in my story. The protagonist hails from a family that reaches back to the Knights Templar. I looked up that group online and found a couple of books that had fascinating information. Not only were the Knights Templar an elite fighting force for the Pope during the Crusades, but they also set up a system of borrowing that was the forerunner for today’s banks.

This book is the first in a series. While doing research for the next story, I used Google Earth. Since I’ve never been to the area where a good part of the story takes place, I used Google’s close-up satellite images to peruse the setting. I can see each location in relationship to the next which gives me an idea of a timeline, obstacles they might encounter, and the best building locations.

Indian artifacts play an important part in that second book. By going online, I was able to check out what kind of Indian artifacts might have been used in my locations and the type of metal that would have been used in that part of the country.

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Research today can be as easy as sitting in your home and pointing your mouse at or sliding your finger across the screen.

For me, the research that I used to dread has added to my enjoyment of writing. I love all the details, especially the ones that don’t make it into my story. With the use of the internet, I don’t have to force my writing to fit into the narrow setting of places I’ve been or things I know.. The internet abounds with written and visual material on almost any subject as well as up-to-date satellite images of most places in the world. It’s comfortable and cost efficient. However, if you enjoy a more hands-on approach, visit the places where your story lives. Check out the sources of information available there. Walk around and get a feel for the ambiance, and put it into your writing. It doesn’t matter which way you go. Your setting will just add to the ingredients of a well-written story.

The only boundaries or limits to my writing now are those of my imagination. I can write about anything or anyone I choose—as long as I add a disclaimer that my work is fiction.

What kind of research goes into your books? I’d love to hear some of your stories.

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