Monday, August 8, 2011

Gathering the Facts

This summer I have done a lot of research for my next novel. I have been asked to write a sequel to Tombs of Terror and, like any author, I want to make it better than the first.

For me, that means it needs to have more action and more facts. I love novels that weave fact with fiction. Even fantasy novels are better when truth is dribbled onto the pages.

So I have been doing a lot of research.

My first place to research is the internet but I am always leery. I love researching quality sites such university and government sites along with reputable medical sites such as the Mayo Clinic. They generally have the most up-to-date and accurate information and great links to other sites they deem worthy and reliable.

But I also love tapping into living, breathing people. They add human perspective to the facts. They make great emotional comments that research papers have to leave out.

As I interviewed real people for my book this summer, I wrote down some of the off-the-cuff remarks and humorous comments that popped from their mouths. The comments were great, even better than I could script so, with permission, I will be adding some of those comments to the dialogue of my book. You definately can't get humor or human from a university or government site!

Finding people to interview can be a bit overwhelming, even to me...a newspaper reporter by trade. But, here are some techniques.

Call and tell them who you are.

Tell them exactly why you are calling. ("I am researching a book on the alphabet and am hoping you can help me with some information.") It doesn't hurt to butter them up a bit, either. ("I was told by so-and-so that you were the best person to talk to about the alphabet.")

Ask open-ended questions. Don't just ask, "Have you studied the alphabet?" Instead, ask, "what is something that surprises you about the alphabet?"

As the interview is ending, ask if you can call back if you have other questions.

Also ask if they know of anyone else who may be able to help.

Finally, I also like to ask if they would be willing to read that portion of the manuscript before I send it to the editor to make sure I have the information accurate. (I do this with my newspaper articles as well and everyone is thrilled by this question. In fact, I can't recall a single person who has ever said no. )

If possible, make a trip to the area or areas of your book. That is a great way to visit with the people who live there. You will be directed to gems you couldn't find through phone research. While there, take copious notes about the terrain, the weather, the sights and smells. Plug in as many of those facts as you can, too.

So, while you gather facts--write, write, write. Above all, enjoy meeting the people who will add so much great flavor to your book whether they are seen on the pages or not.