Archive for November, 2010

Research, Library Sources

While library sources are not as propelling as an interview to our creative juices, they can serve us well and even become fire-starters. Learn to use the specialized materials that libraries offer. There are indexes to periodicals written on all subject matter; archives of microfilm on local, regional and national newspapers; subject cross-index files on books and even magazines if it’s a large library. And if our local library doesn’t have the information we need, we can ask about getting information through an inter-library loan. Most libraries have connections with the colleges in the area as well as other sources for obtaining information. Ask. Librarians are amazing people. They knock themselves out digging up information for us.



Inteviews can be major sources of information; however, interviewing can be a minor art. Interviews can be pleasurable and interesting experiences or boring and irritating. Preparation for an interview is essential. On rare occasions a spontaneous interview is necessary. At such times, having an abundance of notes on the project and where we think it is going in invaluable.

Research, cont.

Being there on the set of our story has to be the most desirable way to write believably about an area. Living in an environment brings a freshness to the page that book or internet research is hard to duplicate. If it is at all possible, we should visit the site of our story or, at least, one reasonably like it.

We should read travel guides, (in hand or internet) encyclopedia data, or anything else we can get our hands on about the place prior to our trip. The more we know before we arrive, the better equipped we will be to find the flavor of information we need and where to go to get it. We must not forget pads, pencils, recorder, camera or camcorder or both.

Research, cont.

Is this research? Sure it is. But there’s more. Jotting is a wonderful exercise. If we can pull our stories from everyday experiences, we have all the information we need at our fingertips. With a trip or two to the town library for some local history, we can authenticate and escalate the process as well. However, if our story involves leaving our town, or our time, we may have more work to do.

For one story, our card file/3 ring binder may hold all the information we need at our fingertips. For another we’ll have to scour several sources to garner sufficient material to create a believable story. Let’s look at some primary sources for research and techniques we can utilize to gather information.

Research, cont.

Okay? Now what! We need to get in the habit of jotting things down. THINGS? Yeah, things like the way Joe, the boss’s son, rolls his R’s and his eyes at the same time, and the fact that Jean, the front office clerk, is somnambulistic by 3:00 pm. Record the tornado citing, the gloom shadowing the sky, and the faces pressed against the office windows painted with fear. Become a jotter. Realism emerges from real life jots.

When an idea for a story, when a character appears out of nowhere in our head, when our mind’s eye sees a world, or a place, or a scene–jot it, jot it, jot it. When we get home, file it. Stories emerge from imagination jots.

Research, cont.

We’ve been told this before: “Don’t leave home without it.” In this case it is pencils and something to write on. The something to write on is strictly personal preference. Some writers prefer index cards or three ring notebook paper as these can be categorized and filed just as they are, but others of us prefer steno pads that are particularly portable but require rewriting for filing purposes. Some depend on recorders, but if we go that route we must make sure pencil and pad are on hand as well. Batteries are unpredictable at best, and tapes decide to split or tangle with the propensity of naughty children. Of course there’s the laptop or computer notepad if you have one. Here again these are not as portable or dependable as pad and paper.

Researcher or Unlikely Historian

That’s it. Like it or not. But the tag is pretty hep if you think about it. The title Unlikely certainly takes us off the hook of ever having to admit we in any way enjoy research, historical or otherwise; what it doesn’t o is take away the task. So whether we prefer to be Unlikely Historians, Historians or just Researchers, it’s a good idea to accept the role with an open mind and embracing spirit, because that is the first step, the giant step, in developing technique. It is the giant step we must take when we decide to take ourselves seriously as writers. Now we can proceed.