Wednesday, May 19, 2010

True Research


There are many approaches, lengths, and avenues we use in order to obtain the information we need for book fodder or to validate the plausibility of our story’s actions. With some of us venturing toward the safer side and leaning toward internet. Others seeking to glean information from trusted sources and then stretching their artistic license from there. Many though will look to their own personal experience, past and present, taking a moment (or three) to relive the best of all their horrific/wonderful moments.
Truth adds realism, plausibility, and emotions that the reader can embrace because they are…well…real.

But what if the writer hasn’t experienced something and they, who knows the character best, is not quite sure how said character would respond a given situation? Do they guess? Conduct endless studies? Take a poll? Or do they find a way to add a true measure of realism to their research in favor of authenticity.

Now I’m not talking about killing someone, or trying to understand the conflicted emotions of a person gone insane (though Mondays alone can lend me adequate experience there). But if you were trying to write about the average middle aged parent who was running the race of their life, with virtually no preparation whatsoever, how would you go about getting into their head so you could speak from your heart?

Do it.

I mean actually sign up for a race and throw yourself head long into it. Now, granted, you might want to consider health factors in there, and I can only imagine your protagonist would too if they were running the race. Unless you intend for them to fall over from a heart attack, in which case I would caution against such an exercise (literally). But let’s say that your protagonist wears braces and you never have (or it’s been a long time and your memory is a little faulty). Would you be willing to go through the ordeal again (and involve your spouse) in order to add realism to let’s say…kissing with them on? Is it embarrassing? Rewarding? Electrifying? (Sorry…I’m feeling punny today.)

Funny how our life experiences have a way of ending up in our writing. It reminds me of a teenager I once knew who got her braces off three days before her Senior Prom, while I got mine on about…a week after. 20 years later. Want to know what’s funny? I’m actually talking about the same person. Yes. I was one of the fortunate few who enjoyed the heartache of crooked teeth, the braces to straighten them out, and then experienced the joy of having them off and the subsequent horror of watching her teeth slowly ebb back to their original preteen state about a year or two later. That’s what happens though when you get so discombobulated over your impending marriage that you lose your retainer. And fail to replace it.

So here I am 20 years later living something so typical to the age of my characters and her friends (again) that I’ve decided to make the most of it. And my sweet and loving husband has been oh so very obliging in helping with refreshing my memory. It’s different kissing someone this time around considering I’m married to the man, but about as awkward and uncomfortable as I remember. Sort of. I mean, it’s not like I’m worried that husband may go running for his life or laugh at me behind my back. (Why, when he can do it to my face–just kidding!) But really folks, it’s not all that bad going through this ordeal again when I know I will reap the benefits in a few short months and add a little dimension to my story in the process. You know what I mean?

Really. Do you?

I mean, what lengths have you gone to for your characters, and what experiences have influenced your writing such that you’ve found yourself profoundly grateful to have had them in the end? Or not….

1 Comment

Nice article. I use a lot of my medical experiences from my nursing career in my writing. I have also spoken with attorneys and doctors to get things right for “Save the Child”. For “Untold Scripture Stories” I’ve combed the scriptures, concordances, indexes, internet, bible references, and spoken with Jewish people I know. I’ve also written to authors who write about that time period and place to see if they have reference materials I haven’t found out about. Reading, reading, and more reading in the genre you are writing helps.
Best Wishes,

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