.Research can be both a wonderful tool or a curse for writers. We don’t get all the way through any book without at least a little bit of research. We don’t know everything off the tops of our heads. These days Google, Bing, Wikkipedia and the whole internet are right at our fingertips. They can bring us information on just about anything we want, but sometimes we rely on them too much and forget about the rest of the world out there that can help us with our research. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that I can look up New Mexico treasure stories right on my computer for my newest romantic suspense, but that can’t be the only place I get answers. I’ve also made trips to the area of northern New Mexico that I’m writing about so I can experience first hand the area I’ll be describing.
But there are places closer to home you can visit or research without taking trips or relying solely on the internet.
1. Don’t forget your local library and librarian. Yes they have books there that you can probably look up online, but they also might have old newspaper files so you can go back and actually read the newspaper stories from a certain time period. And yes, you can probably see the old stories online, but how long does it take you to find them? Sometimes the librarian can be just the ticket to easy research. They seem to know everything or where to find it. Libraries can be great resource for genealogy too and looking at old family trees.
2. Museums – This is another place that you probably think you don’t need because the internet can give you such quick access to information. But sometimes it is great to look at the actual objects from a certain time period. Any sort of historical writing can be helped with a visit to an actual location where you can see the real objects that were used in a certain time. Whether you’re looking at whale bones, dinosaur skeletons, Native American head gear or rocks from the moon, seeing things first hand can help with a description or just give a writer a better feel for an object or time period. Look at the material from the 1800’s. Imagine wearing those clothes and how it felt to put them on.
Last month I had great time visiting the Denver Art Museum to see the Cartier exhibit, Brilliant. What a fascinating show that is. The diamond tiaras were so brilliant they couldn't even be photographed. I managed to get pictures of a few items, but most were so absolutely dazzling they were impossible to capture because of their brightness. Seeing the exquisite designs and pieces of jewelry gave me wonderful ideas for describing elegant jewelry at a ball in an upcoming story.
3. Graveyards – This can be eerie and some friends have laughed because I admit I will sometimes visit graveyards in other cities. You can learn a lot about time periods, especially if you are writing historical pieces. Visiting a graveyard in Salem, MA really brought home the witch trials too me. And visiting Arlington National Cemetery was very sobering.
Visiting cemeteries can also give you an idea of the various names that were used in certain time periods, and you can see the difference in how people approached death in different generations.
4. Local Police & courtrooms – these are good for writing current stories because they can alert you to things like the booking process for criminals or crime issues. Many police departments have public liaisons who can help with crime research and don’t forget many offer police academies that might take you on a ride along.
5. Local parks – these are more my getaways when I just want to get the feel for the weather. But walks in the park can also help me with plot problems. I have some time to think through what my characters are doing and when I come home I am ready to buckle down and write that scene.
So get out of your office and do some fun research other than burying your nose in the internet all the time. You might even come up with some new story ideas.