Research Trips in Miniature

By Ellen Parker, author of Starr Tree Farm

Starr Tree Farm“She drew me into the story until I didn’t want to let go.”

These are words that warm an author’s heart. But how do you get there? How do you create a story the reader wants to hold on to? Craft books are filled with tips and theories and exercises. But today I’m going to touch on research, specifically the mini research trip.

Internet research is key in this day and age. An hour or two of web browsing can confirm or correct facts residing in the cobweb portion of your brain. Select your websites with care – many respected and careful organizations maintain pages containing historical research from all eras, the interior workings of gadgets, and current climate conditions. Let your genre be your guide.

An interview with an expert is another popular and effective way to learn technical information. Several guides to productive in-person or telephone interviews can be found on the web or perhaps in your notes from classes and workshops.

Experience is a another great teacher. If you’ve performed a task, or observed a demonstration, it’s easier to capture more of the senses involved. Example: My heroine in Starr Tree Farm learns to walk on snowshoes. I wasn’t able to find a pair in my local area to try – but I got the dimensions from a library book, cut out cardboard templates, added shoelaces, and walked around my home. This gave me a taste of the mechanics involved and the concentration necessary to lift feet and move legs without tripping over your own snowshoes. Real life experience walking in snow and playing with skis added more authenticity.

My favorite research method is a trip. Now before you go running off to update your passport or complain that you have too many obligations and too little money let me explain. Research trips can be small, as short as a few hours, and modest in price. You can gather research at a tourist attraction or local event. Add a notebook and camera to a family outing and it does double duty. Museums come in all specialties – local history, art, or science to name a few. Parades, festivals, and re-enactments offer a theme plus great people watching.

One of my recent mini-trips was to observe criminal court hearings. I skipped the camera and concentrated on using pen and paper. From the spectator section it was necessary to lean forward to catch the exchanges between defendant and lawyers standing in front of the judge’s bench. A hushed, reverent atmosphere prevailed—the type of detail you don’t find in other research methods.

Authors strive to “get it right.” A good author takes the extra steps in research to capture the details – the sights, sounds, and smells of a place or activity. An excellent author weaves and tucks the research into the story so naturally that the reader continues to turn page after page into the night.

Here’s wishing you a research adventure with “excellent” results.

2 thoughts on “Research Trips in Miniature

  1. Ellen,
    I love mini-research trips. Each year, I visit the art museum taking in the sounds and people watching. Love your snow shoe experiment. The court trip sounds interesting. I’ve been on a jury before and it feels so strange listening to testimony but knowing there’s another story there that no one is letting you hear.

    Lynn

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