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A Writer’s Notebook

I read an article recently in a writing magazine about getting so bogged down in the research for a book that the author didn’t think he would every get round to writing the actual novel.

The first place you search is your imagination for ideas for the story you intend to write. You might have heard of a real-life happening from the past or a story from your own family or a newspaper story that can be used as inspiration. You will know where your story is set so read fiction or non-fiction set in that part of the world. If you want to place a character in an enviroment you are not familiar with find a book set in a similar place. No detail is too small to overlook. I read a book once by an author from the nineteen-forties  who wrote about Australian aborigines and had obviously never read about our indigineous people because the scene she wrote came out of darkest Africa. It took much away from what was otherwise a page-turning novel.

The depth of research should be seamlessly intergrated throughout your story. I research the most important historical facts and leave the smaller facts until I am writing. If I want to know the type of hat a person would wear in a particular scene I  spend a half-hour on the internet or a relevant book from my library to find out. The reason is that small scenes are often added along the way and I might never need to know about the type of hat. It saves time.

I am not sure about visiting places that you are researching, some authors do, some don’t. If it is historical research often the place your are researching is changed beyond any recognition. It might now be a carpark or a new housing estate might have built and all the old buildings demolished.

I have visited America but never been to Northern California where one of the chapters from my completed novel is set. I researched on line, read diaries and books written in the era I am writing about, and asked two friends that I workshop with, one Canadian and one who spent many years in America, to give me their opinions on the chapter. I asked them if the writing transported them to the time and place the chapter is set in. I also asked if they noticed any jarring notes or incorrect facts. They did and after listening carefully to their comments I changed or added a few words here and there. Their constructive, helpful and thoughtful advice made this chapter all the better. But be careful who you share with as you have to be able to discern what comments or suggestions will help your work without changing it too much. It’s your story after all.

A short excerpt from my Northern California chapter:

Robert  turned left at a bend in the road and drove up a short trail bordered by tall oaks, a cascade of purple bougainvillea blossom spilling from their highest branches. He slowed and Vivien followed his gaze to a one-storied silver-grey cabin on a rise bordered on three sides by pine trees. ‘Well, this is it,’ he said. 

The cabin to which they came, built in the late nineteenth century of straight pine logs that once must have smelt of resin, was roofed with silvered cedar shingles; it had a wide porch and a fragrant hedge of fading lilac blossoms. It was a place where a hundred generations of feet had padded across the soft brown pine needles. Vivien imagined gold-bearing rocks beside dry trails, meadows and wild bees, and the smell of wood-smoke laced with maple branches.

I have a feeling that I captured the essence of this beautiful part of the world.

Have a great writing week, keep your fingers tapping on the keyboard, or your pen (or pencil) racing across a notebook,

Elise x

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