September 16, 2015

On-Site Writing Research Tips

On-site research can be a blast. While on location for a story, you can discover obscure histories, anecdotes, and locales that weren’t initially in your storyline. These insights can inspire new directions in your plot as well as unexpected characters. Don’t be too discerning at this point. 

Write down everything. Later, you can pick and choose which material to use for your novel.

·       Interview people at the locations represented in your story. Have these folks talk about the place’s history, why they live there, how this area differs from others, what are its peculiarities, slang the locals use, where people hang out, what they eat and drink.
·       Go on tours and jot down what the tour guide says.
·       Note the sensory details so later you can make the scene come alive for your readers. What gives this place its unique quality? How does the air feel on your skin? When you close your eyes, what do you hear? What can you taste on your tongue? Does it have an emotional resonance? What smells hit your nose as you stroll along the street?
·       Pick up tourist brochures, maps, restaurant menus, guidebooks, and any other printed material about the area.
·       Visit a bookstore and look for sightseeing guides, local history and legends, regional cookbooks, haunted places in the area, and local authors. If you have a scene set in a particular spot, see what you can find on it. For example, I bought books on copper mining and the life of a miner when in Arizona researching Peril by Ponytail. Copper mines play a role in my story. We also toured the Bisbee Queen Copper Mine in person.
·       Take photos everywhere, even down to architectural details. Photograph houses where your characters might live, restaurants where they might go, street scenes with details like power lines strung overhead and cracked pavement. Note the foliage and wildlife.

On our trip to Arizona, I already knew the places we had to visit for Peril by Ponytail, but so many other sites begged to be explored. We drove from Scottsdale to Jerome where we stayed overnight at the haunted Jerome Hotel and took the ghost tour. From there, we visited Sedona, scouted out a New Age center, and took a jolting jeep ride into the hills. Then we headed toward Tucson, taking a caverns tour along the way and spending a day at Bisbee exploring the copper mine and seeing the historic town.

We visited museums and ghost towns, including famous Tombstone. But most importantly, we stayed on a dude ranch. In Peril by Ponytail, Marla and her husband Dalton honeymoon at an Arizona dude ranch owned by his uncle. Things take a bad turn when a forest ranger is found dead. The Tanque Verde Ranch was perfect as a model for my fictional location. Hopefully I’ve recreated every mesquite tree, saguaro cactus, and abandoned wagon wheel in my story.

It wasn’t possible to fit all of my wonderful experiences into one book. I might have to set another story in this state. The adventures I did use took me back down memory lane for one of our best trips ever. Pick a place you’ve wanted to visit, and it becomes a fabulous vacation as well a working trip. But go with your writer’s eye, looking for details, and recording those sensory impressions, like the desert dryness irritating your nostrils or making your hair stand out from static. These are things you can learn only from being in a place. So determine where you need to go and book that trip.
Nancy J. Cohen writes the humorous Bad Hair Day mystery series featuring hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Her latest adventure, Peril by Ponytail releases, today. Several of these titles have made the IMBA bestseller list. Nancy is also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery, a valuable instructional guide on how to write a winning whodunit. Her imaginative romances have proven popular with fans as well. She writes the Drift Lords series, featuring myth and magic in a modern day setting, for Wild Rose Press. A featured speaker at libraries, conferences, and community events, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who's Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, she enjoys fine dining, theme parks, cruising, and outlet shopping.
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