Research, and Why It’s Good
As many of you writers know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or for those who like acronyms: NANOWRIMO. I’ve been a semi-active participant for the last few years, as have been a few of my coworkers. It’s fun, and sometimes I do get fairly far with whatever project I’m currently working on. This year, since I’m already 176 pages deep into The Flying Ponies, I decided to write a diary from the viewpoint of my main character’s great, great grandmother. The diary is really just meant for me so I know the backstory on the Flying Ponies Grand Carousel, but who knows – if the book takes off, perhaps the diary will someday be published.
The diary is being written in a pretty cool leather journal I scored at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. I have a gel ink pen that looks like a giant white feather to write with, and that’s fun, too. It’s been quite a while since I’ve handwritten anything other than notes for a story. But the real fun, for me, has been the research. Adara, the writer of the journal, lives in Brooklyn during the Roaring Twenties, and she frequents the infamous Coney Island. I’ve been a fan of the place for quite a while now, because I love amusement parks and carousels, and the Island has quite the storied past.
I’d heard of the Dreamland fire, in 1911, that completely wiped out that beautiful park. It was never rebuilt, leaving only Steeplechase (which burned but was rebuilt) and Luna Park to dominate the Island, along with the infamous Boardwalk and Bowery, but I’m learning a lot more. Coney Island still operates, and a few of the historic rides are still there, including the newly-refurbished B & B Carousell (that’s actually how it’s spelled), and the Cyclone coaster. But I doubt it’s anything like it was back in the twenties, when a million people would come to the Island to lay on the beaches and take spins on all the rides.
I also doubt that a lot of people like to do research; I feel that a lot of writers think it takes time away from the writing. And it does, certainly. But to get that authenticity for your story, to really get inside a character’s head who’s in that time period, it’s absolutely essential. I have pages and pages of research on Coney Island, and have books coming that talk about the park during the different decades of operation. I need to know what roller coasters and carousels and dark houses were on the streets of the Island so that Adara and her boyfriend can move through them and have it be real.
Without doing your research, your story will fall flat, because guaranteed, someone out there reading it will know something about the subject you’re writing about, or the time period your characters are in, and if it’s not right, you’ll hear about it. If I’ve learned anything at all from writing fan fiction, it’s that the fans LOVE to tell you when you’re wrong. And with fan fiction, because there are so many stories out there, if you get it wrong once, you’re likely to lose that reader forever. And though I’m not yet published, I’m guessing it’s the same with published books.
So whether you hate it or love it, do your research. Do it because your story, and your characters, are worth the time and effort. And you’ll learn a lot, and thus, so will your readers.