PACKING MY BAGS
How can I use my vacations or other trips for research?
I recently wrote a setting into a new manuscript that I’d unknowingly researched for several years. I love visiting Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and riding through the Smoky Mountains. My husband and I have visited there several times over the years. I’ve taken a lot of pictures and bought postcards, so it seemed natural to set the second book in my new series there.
I can’t count those past trips off my taxes, unfortunately, only future trips where I actively do research, but we authors need to keep our eyes open on any business trips or vacations, take lots of pictures, buy postcards, and maybe even keep local newspapers of interest or other publications in our research folders. We never know when an idea might be germinating in the backs of our heads or when that idea will suddenly demand to be put down on paper.
In the Pigeon Forge book, my character is attending a car show in the area, just like my husband and I did a few years back, so I had the information already at hand. I wanted my character’s husband to idolize Dolly Parton like my hubby does, and where better for my character to “meet” her than in Pigeon Forge where Dollywood is located? Pigeon Forge and Sevierville each have the country or rural setting outside of town that I needed for my story. Having spent so much time there allowed me to bring my setting to life.
Where do you like to visit? What setting sticks in your mind? Would make a great background for your story? Remember, our story setting usually becomes a silent character in our books, giving color and texture to our manuscripts. Visiting and exploring the ins and outs of a place will help us to layer our settings into the story in a very real way we can’t if we choose a place we’ve never visited and are researching via maps or the net.
Now, I’m not discounting that type of research. We may not be able to afford a research trip to Siberia to scout out our setting, in which case, the Internet, chats with friends who have been there, maps, etc. may be our only option. But using places we’ve actually spent time exploring is the best option, particularly for getting the real “feel” for the place.
Restaurants we love can be incorporated into the story (strongly suggest not having any one suffer food poisoning or other disasters when using a real restaurant. It’s always a good idea to make the scene positive when you use the real name of any existing business.) When we use the tourist attractions we visit (such as Dollywood or Cade’s Cove in Pigeon Forge) in our story, we’ll have a good idea of what the local hotels are like, stores, and other businesses. Be sure to investigate some of the out-of-the-way places as well. I’m using the NAPA store in my manuscript where my husband and I spent an afternoon while he repaired our car. In fact, that car repair became a focal point in my story. And we accidentally happened on one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve ever seen at a place called Chimney Rock. There were several people picnicking nearby, but most of them were simply sitting on the huge rocks and boulders, listening to the water rush by, and enjoying nature. That setting is going into a different book.
I mentioned pictures and postcards. I keep a couple of those tacked to my story board to inspire me as I write. Small trinkets or souvenirs can also be inspiring.
SUGGESTION: Choose a place you enjoyed visiting in the past (or found scary, boring, ugly, romantic, whatever) that you would like to incorporate into a novel someday and write a short story about it. You can turn it into a novel, if you like how the story is progressing.
We were listening to the radio while traveling in the Pigeon Forge area several years ago, and the news reporter, obviously a country boy, was talking about a dead body found that day on the side of the road. The announcer simply could not pronounce a famous name brand of clothing the victim was wearing, giving up after several abortive tries, and I’ve never forgotten it, so I’m incorporating that news report into my story. Had I not been in the area at that time, I’d never have heard it. That also became part of the setting.