Sunday, January 18, 2009

Research For Contemporary Fiction — Part IIIA

Though it might seem that contemporary fiction is not as complex to research as historical, it is still important and can take much time depending on the novel's plot. While some elements are commonplace and easy to research, the novel's setting can still require time-consuming research.

Because I believe that setting influences a novel’s plot as well as the mind-set of characters (such as small town/metropolis or northern states/southern states), I tend to do extensive research on setting. Here are the methods I use that will help define setting and often plot details in contemporary fiction.

1. Visit the location. When possible, I visit locations of my novel, and while there, I pick up
materials at the Visitor’s Center. Besides brochures and maps of the area, I like the activity magazines that shows sites and places of interest, restaurants, community and seasonal events, anything that will help me make the story more real. Visiting the location allows me to take photographs which later help me describe and recall what I saw. Being there allows me to experience the sensory elements and take notes. The local newspaper is also a worthwhile resources.

2. Chamber of Commerce. When visiting isn’t possible, I write or call the Chamber of Commerce of cities or geographical areas. I ask for the same things that I would obtain by visiting there — maps, events, celebrations, attractions, topography, sections of town, street names, businesses, and fliers. Once wen I researched a city by telephone, the woman at the Chamber of Commerce tore pages from the local telephone book that had detailed maps of the city. They can be very helpful.

3. Town’s Library: Libraries in the town you're researching often have local events boards that list activities and events in the area. Make sure to talk to the librarian. They often prove to be a great resource of town history and current information.

4. Email contacts: Friends and acquaintance are often a great resource. I often use email to request information. This works especially well if you belong to organizations that have loops or group contacts. Many social networks offer opportunities to send out bulletins or notices, and you can use those to ask questions about setting, careers or any kid of information. I’ve used loop contacts looking for someone who knew a Hispanic migrant worker who could help with the everyday Spanish language. A woman came through, and I had small amounts of authentic language in my novel.

5. Travel guides can be purchased in libraries or obtained through AAA or other auto clubs. I keep all my travel information. It provides excellent information about important sites and events as well as hotels and even restaurants in the area.

6. Internet - For your novel’s setting, use the Internet to check out city information , the local real estate with photographs, restaurant menus, newspaper name, the flora and fauna, town details, and its environs They often provide a calendar of year-round events which can add authenticity to your novel.

7. House plans and style: I purchase magazines like Home Plans and other architectural magazines that provide blueprints and drawings of homes. I make a copy of the houses I select for the characters in my books, and then I can visual them as they move through their home. It provides me with realistic details and layout.

8 Nature Information. Details about weather in various seasons, stages of the moon are available on the Internet. Also the flora and fauna of an area can be more realistic.

9. How To: You can find websites on how to do most anything. I’ve learned how to saddle a horse, ride a snowmobile, and do so many things by going the an Internet search engine and type in How to . . . ? (whatever you want to know) or check out these websites: , , or

10. Ask people: As I mentioned earlier, ask people you know or contacts you have through the Internet loops or social networks. Having knowledgeable sources provide you with information is the best.

11. Telephone: The telephone is my friend. I call hospitals set in the location of my novels to ask many questions—nurses and doctor’s shifts (12 hours on or 8 hours?), information about the maternity ward procedures. I call clothing stores to make sure they sell the items I want to purchase in my books. Restaurants will describe their decor (if you can’t find it on line) or a popular entree, and the Chamber of Commerce set in the locale of your novel, as I already mentioned.

12. Tours: Visit a museum and experience life in another century, business, farms, coal mining, and so many other venues offer tours to help you use your senses to make your book come to life. I hired a fishing boat captain to give me a tour of the Les Cheneaux Islands, the setting for my January 2008 novel, Family In His Heart. Not only did I see the area close up, but he provided me with historical and current information that was invaluable to making my story real.

13. Experience It: I went on a hot air balloon ride this summer, because I wanted to know what it was like to be a mile above the earth in a wicker basket attached to a balloon. I’m afraid of heights, but it was worth the trip, and our landing added so much excitement that the event will broaden my novel. Obviously we don’t want to experience murder, but you will have so many things in your books that you can experience. You can sit in on a court trial. If you go to San Francisco, you can tour Alcatraz and find out what it feels like to be in a cell or in solitary. Going out with the police a ride, sky diving, roller skating, looking at dinosaur bones being excavated, and on and on.

14: Interviewing professionals: Writing suspense (which I’ll cover in more detail later), I contacted a detective and learned much about him as well as researched numerous pieces of detailed information I needed for my novel, Finding Christmas. When interviewing, respect the person's time. Have your questions listed and make sure to say thank you and ask if you can call again if necessary.

Respecting people's time and effort is always important in whatever way they provide it. Be sure to thank them personally and if they permit, you can thank them in the acknowledgements of your novel.

Next: Researching Characterization and Plots for Contemporary Fiction


Cathy Bryant said...

Hi Gail! Thanks for this post. I really appreciated the tip about house plans. What a wonderful idea!

Cathy Bryant

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Isn't it interesting how we can get great tips from people even after we've written for years. I always have fun at conferences learning how someone else does what I do differently.

Thanks for dropping a note.

Avily Jerome said...

Great tips, thanks Gail!