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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Research Tools

   One of the best tools for research when traveling to places of interest for a story, is the camera. I find it better than notes. I can go back and look at the photos and give an accurate description of a particular area, tools of the trade of certain cultures, and so on.  For example, the Amish people in one of the districts in upstate, NY have brown buggy tops, while other areas, such as Lancaster, PA, have black. The same goes for the bonnets that the women and girls wear. They are brown in some areas and black in others.
   Not all of us live in the country or near farmland, so an accurate description of barns, fields and the general topography can all be fine tuned by going over photos taken in such places. Or it might be that  the country is home and it's the city environment that is not familiar.
   Even if a story doesn't call for much research in so far as having to go visit a particular area, it's helpful to take photos of sunsets, sunrises, the ocean, lakes, the changes of the seasons, a bustling city...whatever is within our vicinity so as to capture what we hope to put into words at a later date.
   Don't forget the photos of friends and/or family who might have traveled to a place you are interested in writing about but cannot travel to. And if you can't travel or obtain photos from others, then search online for those places of interest and save the photos in a file so you can go back and look at them as needed.
   Of course, the Internet is a valuable tool for research, especially for those who cannot travel due to family, health or time constrictions. If we can't get to a place we need to know more about, there is always a message board or a blog somewhere with someone who has been to the area needing research. It's surprising how helpful this avenue of research can be.
   The imagination is a wonderful tool and in some of us, a marvelous gift. Never to be overlooked in the craft of writing stories.  Many memorable children's books came directly from the imagination of the author. And with that, many a child's imagination has grown from such stories.
    The good old fashioned notepad is not to be overlooked. Even if an iPad is available. Good to back it up just in case it is lost or stolen, not uncommon these days. Always keep a small notebook and pencil in your purse, suit pocket or briefcase, traveling to and from work, going on outings or even just getting to everyday places, like the supermarket. Keep one on the night stand too. You never know when a good idea will hit, and isn't it frustrating when you awake in the morning knowing you had a good idea during the night, but forgot it?
    Books on the topic of interest to be written about is a big part of research. Read about what you want to write about, be it historical novels, Amish ones, particular cookbooks, children's stories and so forth. If you can't afford to purchase the books, go to the local library or buy used copies at a lower price online. Lots of us might say that we have no time to read, what with chores, a job and trying to get a certain amount of words written each day. So, consider the reading as homework for your craft. Read in bed, on the train or bus going to or from work, while waiting for something to cook, in a waiting room at the doctor or dentist. Even in the car while waiting for your child to come out of school. Once you start to read good books in the genre you are interested in writing, the desire to read will take care of itself.
    Next time we'll talk about criticism of our cherished words...ouch!    

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