Natalie Kleinman talks about why research is a new and exciting adventure.
In the past few weeks two things have turned my mind to the consideration of research with respect to writing fiction. The second – yes, I know, back to front – was the subject of this month’s post and the realisation that I know very little about research. The first was the decision to send the heroine of my work in progress out of the UK, and therefore out of my comfort zone.
Because I write contemporary romance I have always been able to draw on my own experience, both the contemporary and yes, the romance too. The places in my books and short stories are places I have seen and loved. The impression they made lasting. So I was pretty much writing from a position if not of strength then at least of comfort. Even though a large chunk of my book Voyage of Desire takes place on a cruise ship I could write from a knowledge base because I’ve cruised enough – on a ship, not in my writing – to be true to the facts. A little bit of research was required for one of the ports of call but it was minimal and quite enjoyable. So much so it tried to take me away from my writing because I became so interested in the place I wanted to explore further.
This desire to explore further worries me because my heroine is going to the United States. Though she’s only visiting one large city, it’s one I haven’t been to, therefore research has become a necessity. How far does one go and how much time should I spend on it? I have, thus far, only had one dabble but Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in America – this the first piece of information that came out of my research – with a wealth of material to delve into. I know this because I Googled only to find there was so much I had no idea where to begin. The webpage is bookmarked waiting for me to return. Following the advice and experience of friend and co-writer, Elaine Roberts, who pointed me to Google Earth, I logged in and put my toe in the water. What an amazing experience. I didn’t spend long, though longer than I intended, and I’m really looking forward to going back and ‘seeing’ the places I’m hoping to write about.
Now for what might seem a change of tack – a nautical term, I believe. I grew up with a love of historical fiction but it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise how much probing and exploration were necessary for the authors to convince me, as they did, that I was there in that place in that time. As a reader I took it on face value because it had an authenticity about it that I didn’t need to question and was therefore not pulled abruptly out of the story I was reading at the time.
Putting all these things together has made me realise the importance of being as certain as one can of the facts. I’m sure we’ve all read things from time to time where the spelling or grammar or a misplaced piece of information has spoiled the whole experience. It may be that hours of research are needed to avoid making mistakes but these are hours well-spent. One glaring error can spoil the whole.
And so I look forward to researching Philadelphia with enthusiasm and trepidation, keen to explore what looks to be an amazing place, worried that I might slip up and get something wrong, and absolutely positive that this new and fascinating adventure will take up far more time than it ought but from which I’m sure I will gain huge pleasure. And after Philadelphia? With Google Earth the world is my oyster.