Research? What kind of research?

It doesn’t seem to matter what the task is, unless it’s something I’ve done before, research has to come first.

  • Changing the needle on the sewing machine? Check the manual.
  • Removing a stain from delicate fabric? Google my options.
  • Bake a special dessert? Get out the cookbook.
  • Refinish deck furniture? Find a YouTube video and follow the steps.

My current project — creating a family tree — has been a major research project. Once I made a start, I found lots of formerly unknown sources of information.

An old family bible provided pages of family births, deaths and marriages from the mid-1800s.

Other distant relatives had information to share, such as their discovery of an abandoned cemetery and lost family gravestones.

I’m accumulating details from birth, marriage and death registration certificates that, in addition to cause of death — a surprise to me — often included names and birthplaces of parents, residence at time of death, religious denomination, and occupation.

I mentioned in an earlier post my excitement over locating forty pages of my father-in-law’s WWI military service records. I’ve gleaned all sorts of interesting albeit irrelevant tidbits, like the name of the ships he sailed on between Canada and Europe.

It’s such seemingly irrelevant information that can make the research fascinating and bring an ancestor to life again.

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For writers, it’s those details that can make our stories appealing to readers. The little bits of personal trivia that help readers ‘see’ the setting and get to ‘know’ the characters. They make the story more intimate, more meaningful.

I know this. I just have to remember to implement it in my writing!

What kind of research do you undertake in preparation for (or during) the writing of your stories?

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Research and Writing, an Inevitable Combination

Dead leaves crunched under foot and weeds crowded the path that was the only access to the abandoned cemetery.  Detailed directions from the curator of the small rural museum included the warning that it would be easy to miss the trailhead. But we didn’t, and eventually found what until that moment I hadn’t known existed — the grave marker of my great grandfather.

Only those of you who appreciate the complexity of genealogy will understand the thrill of that discovery. It’s amazing what research can uncover.

I’m impressed at how much research many writers undertake in order to ensure authenticity in their novels. I recently read a series of blog posts by Carla Gade who, in preparation for the writing of a colonial novella, attended a historical society’s presentation on “Dressing a Colonial Lady.”  There is far more to a colonial lady’s wardrobe than I ever imagined!

There can be hours spent online and in libraries gathering details for historical novels. And there is the travelling — sometimes extensive trips such as the ones to Britain taken by authors Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte.

Not every writer goes to that length, of course, and some “write what they know” and don’t do research at all.

What about you? If it’s required, how do you handle the research in preparation for your writing?

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Research and Writing – Part 2, coming on Friday.