Monday, March 23, 2009

You Did What in the Name of Research?

1. Held an eight-foot snake. (They’re not slimy! They are heavy.)

Last week I talked about writing from the heart, so this week I thought I’d talk about the hands-on research aspect of telling a story.

2. Rode a donkey up the side of a steep cliff on a Greek island (and didn’t fall off).

Good descriptive scenes are so much easier with first-hand knowledge. When I wrote historical romances, I did a month’s worth of research on the time period in which my book was set before I ever put a word on paper. With mysteries, the research is not as well-defined. Naturally, there are those legal questions that must be answered, and police procedures to know a bit about. But after that, the story can take you anywhere.

3. Took a hot air balloon ride. (You can hear a person talking in a normal voice on the ground when you’re way up high!)

To really get inside my characters' heads, I need to know what they're experiencing -- except for the murderous parts. For instance, I’ve spent a lot of time with florists, soaking up their techniques and that wonderful atmosphere, pouring over floral magazines, and doing virtual flower designs. So when I wrote about cremation I . . .

4. Toured a crematorium. (Way more info than I ever wanted to know.)

When I wrote A ROSE FROM THE DEAD, in which Abby is asked to judge decorated caskets for a funeral directors’ convention, I . .

5. Got an in-depth look at a mortuary, including climbing inside a casket. (Really, really dark in those boxes.)

6. Got bucked off a horse (not on purpose!)

When Abby got locked in a jail cell, well, you know where this one is heading. (and I don’t recommend it).

I’ve also gone spelunking in a cave that was NOT designed for tourists. My tour guide was a college student looking for some pocket money and we did not have hard hats with lights on them. We had flashlights, lanterns, and kneepads to crawl through the tight spots. At one point, when I was finally able to stand upright, I aimed the beam at the ceiling and discovered that it was inches about my head. And hanging from that ceiling were about a thousand brown bats about the size of my thumb. (I backed out very slowly).

This courage -- where does it come from? As a child, I never even finished a swimming course because I was afraid to jump off the high dive. But now I’ve done things I wouldn’t ever have considered doing before I became a writer. Somehow, when I’m in my character’s head, I’m not me anymore. I’m fearless and bold -- without being dumb about it.

What a heady feeling that is. It must be like being an actor. When you’re on stage, you become the character. For a writer, you become many characters. All fun stuff if you take the plunge.

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