I confess… I prefer to ask questions of people in the know rather than thumb through a book searching for an answer on my own. Now, I understand how that might seem lazy to some people but, in my defense, I have to say it’s not that at all. It is simply my inability to realize when I’ve researched ‘enough’. Yes, the Gemini in me comes into play when I research.
“But why…?” “And how…?” “So if she does this then shouldn’t he…?”
Sad but true. I am the Question Diva.
Take recently while I was researching hiking and backpacking for a new story. There is an extraordinary amount of information out there on the subject. I borrowed books from the library. I followed unending links online. I questioned fellow writers who have experienced this first hand. I even went to sporting goods stores to handle gear and determine precisely which items my inexperienced heroine might use as opposed to those which my seasoned-hiker hero would use.
And then what? I became hooked. I wanted to know more. And more. I contemplated a backpacking trip with my family to the very mountains where my story was set. Me. Backpacking. The girl who won’t even stay in her own yard long after the sun goes down because of mosquitoes, slugs, raccoons and… whatever else might lurk in the darkness of an urban backyard.
We never did go on that trip – no surprise there – but I wish we had. I wish I’d had the guts. Why? Because after all that research, I wound up sabotaging myself, thinking I could never know enough about this subject to write it like a pro. If I’d experienced it myself, I could write it from my own perspective. I would have learned all I needed to learn in order to write about my heroine’s first experience with hiking/backpacking.
There’s a line Barbra Streisand sings in a song from Yentl – “The more I live – the more I learn, the more I learn – the more I realize the less I know.”
I love that line. It sums up life – and research – so well. We can never know all there is to know but if we respect and acknowledge our limitations, especially as writers, we can share what we’ve learned in a way that whets the appetite of others. Then, perhaps, they will become so energized by what has been shared that they will go out and take that backpacking trip.
Now, how wonderful would it be to receive a note from a reader saying how a story you wrote made them ache for the adventure your characters experienced?
But now, my research has taken me to some other place. A place I don’t want to visit. Weaponry. Fortunately – or not, depending how you look at it – there are plenty of people knowledgeable in this area. And these people are willing to share what they know. In fact, many are thrilled to answer questions, no matter how dark or sinister they might be. Why? Because they’ve done their research and they’re proud to share their knowledge, and… most importantly… they don’t worry if they can’t answer every question. In fact, they know they can’t.
I have finally realized something… I don’t have to handle or shoot a gun in order to write about my hero or heroine doing so. I have only to take enough time to understand how they would feel doing it – what it sounds like, what the recoil feels like, how it affects them emotionally when they hit someone. Or miss.
My stories are about characters. About the way they see the world and interact. Whatever research I do, has to be with my characters in mind. They ARE taking that hiking trip. They ARE shooting that .38 Special. And it has to be with my readers in mind, because they are taking that trip or shooting that gun right along with the characters. And I want them to feel every delicious and decadent second of it.