Friday, May 14, 2010
The Facts of Life
Today's guest blogger is Alli Sinclair, an Australian-born writer who has lived in Argentina, Peru, and Canada. She has climbed some of the world's tallest mountains, worked as a tour guide throughout South America, and tended bar in an Irish pub in Peru. Alli recently completed VESTIGE, a paranormal romance set in Peru, and is currently working on a mystery set in Argentina. Her inspiration comes from her travels, but the facts? Where else.
Writers love sending readers to other worlds, to give them an experience they wouldn’t normally get in the ho-hum of day-to-day. Perhaps the reader will learn something new about someone else’s life, or about them self. But what takes an average story and sends it skyrocketing into another realm?
One of the greatest compliments a writer can receive is when a reader says, “I believed I was there.” Perhaps the reader felt like they were standing next to Eva Peron when she made her speech from the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. The reader’s skin sizzled from the electric atmosphere of the adoring fans crowding into the Plaza de Mayo. The reader could study the intricate details of the Baroque architecture and then gaze at the glittering Cartier bracelet Eva Peron was wearing. Cartier bracelet? Who would have known? A savvy writer who spends time on research would have known, without a doubt.
When a reader picks up a book, not only are they investing precious time, they trust the writer knows about the subject. But how can a writer know that Incas cut off their hair when a loved one passed away? Research. How can a writer know spider webs were used to cure warts in the Middle Ages? Research.
With the age of the Internet, research is a lot easier than back in the dim dark days when people knew how to use the dewy decimal system. Don’t know what the DDS is? Do some research! Now that Google and the like are commonplace (google is officially a verb, believe it or not), research should be relatively easy. But take heed before you google. There is a lot of dodgy information out there that can lead an innocent researcher down a very crooked, slippery path. Working out which web sites are reliable can take almost as much time to research as, well… the research itself. That’s why it’s better to do some in-person investigating if given the chance. And luckily, I’ve had more than my fair share of opportunities to do just that.
I write books set in South America that include historical elements. The stories also have a paranormal side, which means I can create my own world. But I want my stories to feel genuine. If I know the Incas used ornamental pins that could double as a knife, then I will weave in that detail. It might not be significant, but it gives my writing a depth it otherwise wouldn’t have. Sure, I could have googled or (gasp) gone to a library to find this out, but I was able to draw on the knowledge I gathered when working as a tour guide in Peru.
Perhaps this first-hand experience is what fuels my passion for writing stories set in South America. Although, I believe this is a case of chicken and egg. Am I a writer or traveler first? For me, the two are inseparable. All that time spent travelling the globe, I was researching, even though I had no idea I was doing it at the time. Standing among the ruins, I learned historical facts that fuelled the storyteller in me. I could close my eyes and picture the fires burning in the centre of the plaza, smell the incense and hear people speaking a language that no longer exists. To me, research is in my makeup and without doing it, my brain would implode from boredom and my stories would fall flat.
What about you? Is research in your nature? What do you like to research and how do you do it?