Of Research and Realism

I feel like I’m gaining some momentum on the WIP, and am now working on developing my characters somewhat more fully as human beings with hobbies and interests that diverge from the main story line. This of course, as you may have guessed, is leading me to do more research on various things to give it some ring of authenticity.

Additionally, in the back of my mind, I’m still percolating on the prequel, and in lieu of visiting the location I plan to set it in, have ordered a couple of books on it. Since the prequel is going to be set over 100 years prior to the present-day setting of the WIP, visiting the area wouldn’t avail me what I need anyway. I’m hoping I can get enough info from these books and with luck find other sources to really give it a sense of being there. I want it to be as accurate as possible so when people read it, they will be able to see it clearly in their mind and if someone is actually in the area, might think to themselves as they walk down the street, “Is that the house? Was that the street? There’s the lake!” as if these characters had actually lived there. It may be safer to invent the entire thing, but I want it to take place in a real location, as if the reader was stepping back in time.

I like doing the research. I’m one of those people who always enjoyed history and read it for fun. I know I could get carried away with it, so it’s a good thing I’m already somewhat familiar with the area and the age I’ll be writing about. Even if no one reads it, I expect it to be a lot of fun to write it!

20 thoughts on “Of Research and Realism

  1. Authenticity is important to me, too, and so many writers don’t bother trying to get accurate details when they write about a place that actually exists. My WIP is actually set in a fictional town, but it is surrounded by real places to which my characters will travel minimally. I like the balance between reality and fiction so I can use my imagination for some of it, but include accurate details with the rest.

    Are you writing historical fiction? I can’t believe I’ve been reading your blog this long and I don’t know what genre you favor.


  2. I am intrigued about your novel from this post. Much of the journey you share, in giving your characters depth and authenticity is something I am sure most writers (or most serious writers) go through. For me this has been a very organic process so far as I am only beginning chapter 4 of my first full length novel. I would suspect the research will come shortly as I start to flesh out the story line more but I like your idea of setting the stage for a prequel. It’s continuity that I am struggling with the most at the moment because my characters have a habit of deviating from any given story line on the slightest whim. I’d think this is where research and a plot outline would help. Anyway, I am just thinking aloud now.

    Love the black & white photograph. Does it have anything to do with your novel? Does it reflect a subject, subplot or a scene from the book? I am interested in what you are writing now. Maybe you can tell us more in a future post.


  3. Hi Sam,

    How are you feeling? Back among the living? πŸ™‚ Hope your head has cleared up so you can sleep.

    One of the locations I’m sending them to (they’re a mobile lot) will be largely fictionalized because I have no first-hand knowledge of it, but the next stop will be more from having lived in that area, although obviously not the time period.

    Genre. Well, I know I’m supposed to be able to classify it, and someday I will, but it’s probably best described for now as supernatural/not exactly fantasy in that there are no swords or dragons or princesses. It may yet cross over into a bit of horror, although that’s not my main focus. The prequel, if I actually get to it, will be historical supernatural. I honestly don’t know how else to describe it. If you can think of a better term, I’m all ears!


  4. Hi Venus,

    Well, I kind of had the idea for what I’m going to turn into the prequel before I had the idea of turning it into a prequel, if that makes sense. It’s only recently that I saw a way to tie the two together and I’m liking it more and more all the time.

    I have no outline, this thing is organic and keeps branching off in new directions, ideas come as I write and the story is growing. I’m probably less than halfway through it at this point, and it’s still mostly skin and bones. I have a basic idea of who the main characters are and situations arise out of that.

    The photo is not directly related to the story, I don’t think I’ll be including the Vanderbilts or Astors (at least I’m not planning to right now!) but it’s from the general time period of the prequel. It’s just a visual prop to help me focus by projecting myself into the time period.

    Maybe someday I’ll try my hand at cyberpunk, and then I’ll have a whole different set of images to inspire me! πŸ™‚


  5. You go, girl, putting your characters in a whole contextual universe, with a back story, and heritage, and all that ambitious big picture stuff! Does your W.I.P. have a hint of magic realism to it, maybe? That’s kind of the vibe I’m getting.


  6. Yes! That’s the term my fuzzy brain couldn’t remember last night! Magical realism. Phew, thank you πŸ™‚ It’s more of a phenom among Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende than here in the U.S. but that’s the fun of it. Blurring the lines between reality and the fantastic.


  7. One of my favorite, purely American examples of the genre is “Oh Pure and Radiant Heart” by Lydia Millet – the extra bonus for you, Didge, is that it’s about a road trip that begins and ends in New Mexico. There was also a haunting little story in The New Yorker a week or two ago, but I’ll warn you in advance, it involves a child with terminal cancer, and although beautifully written it could break your heart.


  8. Ooooo, I’ll check out the Millet story. Not sure I’m up for a tear-jerker, I can get depressed for days over stuff like that. Tragedies involving children are particularly hard to take.


  9. I have always loved doing research myself! Always the one who would opt for the research paper instead of the multiple choice test. Even if you don’t end up using all of it it’s fantastic how it’s impossible not to learn something. Oh, speaking of magical realism as mentioned above, I am currently about halfway through with Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” and enjoying the hell out of myself. A book I’ve had on the checklist for far, far too long. I think I’ll have it knocked out this weekend.
    So glad you posted a comment today- I hope you come back as I update often. Already loving your site and looking forward to checking back. I’ve got you bookmarked! Nice theme by the way…


  10. Hi TJ,

    Thanks for the return visit and all your lovely compliments! πŸ™‚

    That is one of the most fun things, learning something in the process. I’m so fascinated with what I’m digging into right now, so much that was right under my nose and I never knew it. I can get hung up on details, but I remember reading a book that mentioned a historical person, who hadn’t been born yet during the time period in which the book took place. ACK! I don’t want to make that mistake!

    BTW, you ought to link your username to your blog so folks can find you when you leave a comment. (go to your dashboard page, under Users/Your Profile then look for “contact info” and fill in your blog address).


  11. Research is something I love to do too but it’s so tempting to get lost in it. I believe it was Lawrence Kasdan who said that being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.

    Not sure if he meant that in a good way or a bad way but doing the research for writing sometimes feels like homework. But homework on stuff you want to learn about. πŸ™‚


  12. I think it gives us purpose. Always having more to learn is strangely comforting to me. That’s one of the things I love about my astronomy hobby, there is so much to learn I will never exhaust it. I think the day we stop learning is the day we start dying. Like the “Q” (back to the Star Trek:TNG talk) that had been everywhere and done everything and BEEN everything, all he wanted was to die.


  13. Nothing strange about it, Didge – it’s as close as I’ve seen anybody come to nailing the meaning of life! I think I’m going to embroider “the day we stop learning is the day we start dying” on a pillow, or maybe have it inscribed on a pair of those custom-designed sneakers they sell at Zazzle.


  14. I love research. One of my favorite finds was a published diary of a woman who lived in 19th century New England. “Daughter of Boston: The Diary of Caroline Dall”.


  15. Gyspy, that sounds like a fascinating book. I sort of have this fascination with learning how people lived, day-to-day, before all our modern conveniences were around. I read one something like that many years ago, a compilation of diaries, called “Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey”. Amazing stories of the trip west in covered wagons, unbelievable what they went through.


  16. I like doing research, and I like the authenticity it gives a work. I like the comfort level I have in knowing what a location looks like, or the details of an event. You have to draw your readers into the story, and good research is a way to do that.

    You sound like you’ve had a great time doing this research, too. And it looks like you’ve been researching the late Victorian or Edwardian era, which is a very interesting time period!

    Good luck!


  17. Hi jg,

    I agree, the reader needs to believe what the author is telling, and even though most of the details won’t make it into the story I have to feel confident that what I’m saying is accurate. It’s so jarring to be reading along and run across some bit of info that you know is wrong, or out of time or place. After that I kind of give up on the story, figuring the author doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. Sloppy research is a turn-off!

    Yes, what I’m delving into now is roughly the same time period as Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, so luckily there’s plenty of historical records. It was a fascinating era to me, the world was changing so quickly (well, I suppose that’s true today as well!)


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