Monday, October 24, 2011

Research in motion

Researching for a novel today is much different from a few decades ago. Back then an author had to travel to the physical location. He/she had to learn the cultures, customs, and language of the people where the novel was set. Researching involved spending days in the stacks at the library combing through books and papers, or reading several different encyclopedias.

Today, with the easy access of the internet, research is much different….easier, cheaper. A simple Google search can gain an author access to many things the encyclopedia could not. With Google Earth, an author could get a street view of a location with amazing details—no travel necessary. Pictures could provide settings with one click and blogs and local radio broadcasts via the internet can give a realistic assessment of the day to day lives of people in many places. Yes the possibilities are endless.

In spite of that, there are times when research is needed. Dan Brown, author of blockbusters like “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels and Demons”, does painstaking research for his books. The internet cannot fill in the gap for the types of books he writes. There are many books that deal with topics that require much more than an internet search can provide … even romance books.

For me, a romance writer, I have kept my research rather simple by writing about contemporary people in contemporary settings. I have stuck to familiar occupations and cultures, and kept settings in places that I have lived or visited for extended periods of time. My reason for that is simple: I have read novels set in the Caribbean that just did not ring true for me, a native of the Caribbean. They didn’t capture the spirit of the place and were filled with stereotypes.

So for my current WIP I chose a place that I was already familiar with. It is set in a Dominica, a Caribbean island that I have visited on numerous occasions for extended periods of time. Being married to a native of that country, I am familiar with the customs and cultures, and even though I cannot speak the local language, I am familiar with it.

I began writing that novel late this summer, though I’ve had the outline for almost a year. My timing was no coincidence. It was carefully planned to coincide with my pending visit to that country. You see, I am going to do some research on location. No Google Earth or blog sites or tourist sites for me. I intend to verify locations, places, and capture the essence of the island … the feelings the place invokes. Now my trip wasn’t designed for research. It was simply a visit to my husband’s home country to celebrate his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. But the timing is ideal for this current WIP, and by beginning the novel before I visit the island I can identify the voids and shortcomings in the manuscript and fill them in when I get there.

So yes, in a short while, I’ll be making that journey to do “research”, the type of research that’s best done on location. In my next blog post, I’ll let you know how my research went.

How do you conduct research for your novels?


Charles Gramlich said...

I do a lot of internet stuff, of course. And I tend to set things in places where I'm familiar with or have been to and have notes about.

G said...

I do some internet research to confirm or elaborate on what I would find at the library or hear about from a friend or co-worker, and like Charles, I have a tendency to set things in places that I'm intimately familiar with.

Anonymous said...

Cool post! Dominica is a great place to set a novel because it's underutilized real estate in the fiction universe. Why set a romance in Paris like half of creation does, when you can explore new territory? Maybe that's part of the role of writers, to bring a little slice of something new to people's lives. Dominica has Carib culture and a fascinating history that can inform your story.

As an archaeologist writing mysteries, I understand what you mean about researching online. It's easier than ever, but if you really want to do something new, there's nothing like actively doing the research on your own.

William Doonan

Lynn Emery said...

Cool! I actually visited the island and hiked to that waterfall! If that's the one I think it is.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Charles, G, I've usually taken the safe road of sticking to what I know and places I've lived but sometimes, the road less travelled is the more interesting route. When I take that less travelled road, internet is not always the best method of research.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Thanks, williandoonan. I am in DA (Dominica) right now. I actually arrived tonight after a long, long time travelling (lots of plane delays). You are right, Dominica is really under utilized as a setting for fiction. Most people who write romances set in the Caribbean use beachy settings.

I set my novella, "From SKB with Love" (Holiday Brides) in St. Kitts. I didn't need to go there for research because that's where I was born and raised and I am intimately familiar with it. There are very few novels set in St. Kitts and even then I tried to avoid the usual beachy setting and include other aspects of the island's culture.

In this one that is set in DA, the heroine is actually native Carib (Kalinago). This brings me out of my comfort zone and forces me to do a bit more research since there isn't a lot written about modern day Caribs. I am definitely excited about it.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Yes G, we are talking about the same island. I think you are refering to Trafalgar Falls. I have been there a few times. I hope I can get time in on this trip to do so again. Kind of tough with an 8yr old, a 3yr old and a 2yr old in tow. But hope to do so none the less.

Liane Spicer said...

Have a great trip, Jewel. I too tend to write about places I'm familiar with. There's nothing like having been there for those little touches of verisimilitude.