Monday, July 1, 2013

A Dose of Reality

Doing research on topics related to my writing projects has long been an obsession of mine, especially when I was in my Salem witch trial phase. (Thank you very much THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND).
As I write my contemporary middle grade project, I’m making a list of the things I need to research and how best to get the information. I’ve emailed a friend’s husband who works for the FBI to get information on kidnappings, federal/state jurisdiction issues, and how family involvement varies from case to case. During last summer’s annual family vacation to Maine, I convinced my husband to stop at the Hope General Store where my main character’s best friend hangs out. And, much to my surprise, a few recent news stories have had relevance to my plot, giving me some insights on how real people react to similar situations that my characters are experiencing.
What more should I do to give my contemporary middle grade project a dose of reality?
During the 2012 Northern Ohio SCBWI chapter’s annual conference, agent Tina Wexler talked about knowing when a manuscript was ready to query. She gave this piece of advice that stuck with me:
Read at least two non-fiction books related to a subject in your novel.
So now I’m making a list of non-fiction books that could help me enhance aspects of my middle grade novel.  The list includes memoirs on anxiety disorders, how to investigate cold cases, and how to run a bed and breakfast.  According to my main character’s grandma, if you read 62 books on a topic in two years, you’re an expert on the subject.
I don’t need to be an expert.  I need to learn just enough that I’m not faking my way through my fiction.
What sort of research do you do for your fiction projects? Have you tried reading non-fiction titles related to topics in your WIP?


  1. I write historical, so I'm always reading lots of non-fiction for my research. Right now I'm having a blast researching the 1939-40 World's Fair; and kind of sad I can't include every last exhibit in the book.

  2. I had a scene where someone's parachute is sabotaged and they discover it mid-skydive. I read two books worth of material (in print and online) on skydiving technique, equipment, likelihood of equipment failure, you name it.

    At the time, it seemed like a lot for just one chapter, but it turned out to be pretty much everyone's favorite chapter :-)

  3. Carrie Anne: That sounds like fun! In writing my contemp, I wanted to use Tina's advice to figure out ways to use non-fiction to go deeper with some of my characters/characterization. I definitely have a tendency to do a lot of research for setting and logistics related to my plot. I think non-fiction is a great tool for also helping character development.

  4. A.M. Pierre: So, that begs the question...did you then take it the next step and go skydiving?? You would know what to look for in a good parachute! :)

  5. The first book that I really remember reading with any clarity is The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I still remember it fondly. Does everyone have a book like that which they remember as being the first book to light their fire?

  6. I read a lot of nonfiction for my novels. My characters know things that I don't, so I have to at least be able to fake it for a short time...


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