Good morning Seekers and friends,
Pour yourself a cup of aromatic chocolate velvet coffee or some blueberry herbal tea and lets talk researching the contemporary novel.
Research? A contemporary? Wouldn't you simply write what you know from experience? Don't we already know the styles for clothing, the types of transportation, the currant issues? Why do you need to research?
Good questions. (of course they are since I wrote them myself LOL)
But on to the point. Contemporary novels benefit from research. It is as important for a contemporary as for a historical novel to have your facts and information on target. Researching for any novel gives you the additional advantage of extra material to strengthen, develop and embellish your plot.
For example, in my first novel published, the hero was a storm-chaser. (Remember I was published in the eighties and after losing all three editors I went back and finished teaching--a God thing, but if you are serious about a writing career don't ever do that. When you come back you're on unpubbed island and starting over-sigh). Back to the topic. I did a lot of research on storm-chasers and it gave me so much information to create plot twists and deepen the character.
In another novel, Love's Miracles, the hero was a VietNam veteran so I had to do a lot of research on the war and how it affected veterans. I was in Tahoe area that summer and at the local RWA meetings I met up with a psychiatrist from the Veteran Hospital in Reno. She was invaluable in giving me crucial information. On top of that, I fortunately decided to find a marine to read the male pov and he informed me that I had a lot of terminology wrong and also I had the hero jet crashing "behind enemy lines" which turned out to be a WWII expression and definitely not a VietNam War term. So I was able to change those errors. The book won several awards and I'm positive it was because of the authenticity of the research.
Another time research proved crucial was in my novel Dream Song. The heroine was part Navajo and had returned to the reservation seeking her roots. I had been training teachers on the reservation that summer so felt I had done enough research, but when had a friend of the Navajo nation read the book, she found some subtle problems. For example, I had a "what I thought" romantic scene where the heroine was waiting for the hero and her hair was flowing in the breeze. Sounds romantic doesn't it? Well, my friend informed me that the traditional young women always keep their hair pinned up unless they are mourning. That fact certainly killed the romance.
You can see how it helps to find people in the career you are portraying. A friend of mine who writes suspense, goes on ridealongs with the local police department. I went to several women's bicycle races and actually participated when writing my wip where the heroine is a bicycle racer.
Other ways I've found to authenticate and research novels is to actually go on site. For example, I have a wip set on a steamboat cruise up the Mississippi. Wasn't that fun to research? I actually went on the cruise and interviewed all the crew. Now if that wasn't a "Peyton Place" experience? (I know, I'm really dating myself with the reference to Peyton Place.)
My aunt and uncle have a cabin on a remote island in Puget Sound where I have had the privilege to visit. The area is so unique, I set one of my wip's on a similar island. An editor turned that wip down because she said the setting was too unrealistic and insisted there were no such things as refrigerators that worked on propane. Yikes. I guess I did my research too well on that one.
Research is my favorite part of starting a novel. I'v been accused by family and friends of being a perpetual student. In fact, I just completed a course at Mesa Community College on developing a website. In that class I learned more info about our latest source of research information and that is the Internet.
Do you remember the days when we used to go to the library to do our research? Dating myself again, but I still do love to go to the library. But you don't need to go anymore. So much information is available at our fingertips through the Internet.
There are some precautions. Not everything on the Internet is authentic, true or real. Many sources of information have no checks like traditional publishing has. Newspapers, encyclopedias, most things published could be relied upon to be authentic and truth. Too many legal actions can be taken against a publisher who publishes false information. There are no such checks and balances on the information available on the Internet. Anyone can publish anything.
For example, I learned in class is that wikipedia is not a reliable source. Anyone can add to, change or take out information. So there is no check like publishers do to insure authenticity of the sources of info.
Another example: I was teaching my class how to research animals on the Internet and we looked up dolphins. Up comes plenty of terrific info on dolphin animals, but also the Miami Dolphins, and then one pops up claiming that dolphins were the race ruling the universe. Oh my.
My instructor informed us that if the site ends in .org or .edu it has a better chance of being authentic. Although some .edu addies include students inputting information that could be false. Most universities provide public access to their libraries via the Internet. If you have a university close by, call and ask for a tour. I arranged for all my local writing groups to tour Arizona State University's library. They provide a terrific tour and even serve lunch. It is part of their way to show they serve the community. So check it out. On this tour, they showed us how to access the library resources on the Internet available to the public and also how to interchange with other universities. It is a worthwhile trip.
The best thing to do when looking up info on the Internet is to check the sources of info, the authenticity of the source, references to the source, etc. In other words don't take for granted that something you read on the Internet is authentic.
One thing that helps is to narrow the search. If you google a topic, you could end up with thousands of sites. But if you do a directory search, it narrows the search and the sites are usually more reliable. To do a directory search, go to the google search page and click on advanced search. On Yahoo click on search. A page comes up with only the search window. Next to the word search you'll see options. Click on options and then click on advanced search. If you fill out the criteria in advanced search, you will narrow your results considerably.
How many times have you received information forwarded? Often it sounds real, but is it? I'm talking about things that purport political, religious and social views? Don't just take it for granted that it is true even if it comes from a trusted friend. Often they received it and are simply forwarding it along? There are sites to authenticate this information. One I use is: www.snopes.com.
1. Research setting, careers, social conditions, and events to deepen plot and characters.
2. Find people with experience in career or situations you are portraying. Interview them and/or have them proof your wip
3. Visit sites similar to your settings
4. Use the Internet, university and library
5. Authenticate your information
Whew. This has made me hungry. How about some island fare? We're traveling along the Washington coast so I'm in the mood for steamed clams, oysters plucked off the low tide rocks and grilled over hot coals and how about some fresh crab? I won't even go into how that is prepared or you would never eat another bite of crab. Some fresh salt air and hot french bread smothered in garlic butter will hit the spot.
Oh and since I did just finish my website class, I do have my new site for my children's books up and running. Now mind you, I haven't taken the artistic part yet. That is for next semester. But I'm so impressed that I know html now that I simply have to brag. Check it out. Children's Books by Sandy.
And speaking of not taking the artistic class yet, I really wanted to get some great pictures to go with my post. We have so many creative and artistic Seekers. Don't you agree? I tried, but got so frustrated and worried about copyright that I finally ditched the plan and put photos from our summer travels. The two ocean shots are here in Ocean City, Washington where we are camped. Can you guess the rest? Whoever guesses all of the famous sites will win a surprise announced at 8:00 pm Pacific Daylight Time tonight. (Hint-all but one are national parks)
Thanks for visiting us today and have fun doing that research.