Thursday, March 10, 2011

Research for Writers Level Four: Experience

They say write what you know, and I suppose writing about things you have already done wouldn't really be research, but you could always go out and do something, have some new experience in order to be able to write about it better.

Writing a crime novel? Ride along with the cops. Writing about skydiving? Go jump out of a plane. Writing about Aikido? Go study the martial art at the local dojo.

Personally I would love to take Aikido lessons as a way to research for my book, but I'm way too fat and out of shape, and between the soul-sucking day job and fatherhood, there really isn't time.

So this will probably be the shortest post in the research for writers series. There isn't a whole lot to say about experience except to go out an live. Travel. See exotic places that will inspire exciting settings. Do things you have never done before that will give you plot ideas. Meet people you would have never otherwise met so that they may inspire unique and original characters.

Be sure to take notes. Dig deep in to your experiences so that you may glean the most from having had them. Nothing familiarizes you with the details of a craft or art more than doing it yourself. Want to know how truly difficult it is to do battle with a sword? Do it. Want to know how nearly impossible it is to escape the Polizei on a motorcycle in Frankfurt? Okay, don't do that, but you could rent a motorcycle if you've never ridden one.

So technically for WARRIOR-MONKS I did not go out and do anything new to research for the story, but I did base it off of some things I had already done, which is sort of like the past participle of research.

When I was 16 I was sent to reform school in Idaho for being a knucklehead. They didn't have magic, and they didn't have martial arts, but it did provide the setting for most of my novel.

While I was there at school I spent 6 weeks living out of a tent and a backpack in the Cabinet Mountains in Montana. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had, and yes, it inspires a few scenes in the novel.

As I have written about before, we took part in Sweat Lodge ceremonies, and went on an informal Vision Quest. Both those things made it into the book.

Have you ever had an interesting experience that you adapted into a story? How far would you be willing to go to experience new things in the name of research?

32 comments:

Jessica Bell said...

I guess it would depend on whether it was harmful to me in any way. For String Bridge I wanted to know something about how it felt to take that first drag of a cigarette after having given up for a while. I wasn't about to start smoking, quit and then start smoking again. LOL

Natalie Aguirre said...

I can so relate to not having time to go experience something because of job and family.

I've used my experiences as an adoptive mom in writing my novel. It's why I've stuck with it. I don't see many if any truly adopted kids as main characters in stories. Thanks for a great series this week.

Sarah said...

I've written a book in which one of the major settings is a group home for people with severe, chronic mental illness. I worked in one for two years while I was in college and the year after I graduated. The layout of the home is the same in the book and two of the group home workers are based loosely on people I knew. It certainly made things easier for me because I was writing from memory instead of having to research something I'd never experienced.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Tried experience but the Air Force wouldn't let me near their secret fleet of Cosbolts.
YOU'RE out of shape? Yeah. Right. I'm going to turn in my gym card now...

Bish Denham said...

I have a MG that's based on something that happened to me as a child. I know it would make a great story though it needs a lot of work. And, it takes place on an island in the Caribbean, something I am quite familiar with!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I ain't jumpin' out of no plane. Why would I jump out of a perfectly good plane? That's just silly. A few burning engines, though, and I'm out the door.

Sarah W said...

I don't think one can be too fat for Akido - though this is coming from someone who considers Tai Chi a spectator sport.

Most of the characters in my WIP are ex-cons, and I myself have never been indicted. But we're
similar in other ways . . .

A friend and I are taking a gun safety course at a shooting range later this month, which is essential as I can't write guns to save my life - or the lives of my characters, which is more to the point.

I'm also going to see if I can talk to someone at the FBI about a few details . . .

aspiring_x said...

i've written from experiences i've had (or loved one have had) but i can't remember purposefully going out and doing something for the sake of research... not to say i wouldn't, but you know, the limitations of life and all that. i think building warrior monks off of your valued teenage experience is a really cool idea! :)

Shari said...

Jump out of an airplane? *gulp* I think I'll steer clear from airplane jumping experiences for now. I do use places that I have been for my settings, though, and embarrassing experiences too.

aspiring_x said...

ooh!! i just thought of one! i have a character who keeps telling me he's a gamer- but i know NOTHING about video games. so, my husband handed me the controller thingy and put in assassin's creed, and i tried to learn through experience... yep. my little guy kept falling off a cliff for like an hour. i need to try again- but oh! the humiliation! :)

Jared Larson said...

Great advice, Matt. And sounds like an awesome reform school. I'd like to hear more of that story.

L.G.Smith said...

I'm basically lazy, so anytime I can get by on what I already know I'm happy. But, yeah, there's nothing like actually experiencing something and then writing about it.

I've got a lot of sword and dagger stuff in my novel. Last fall I finally got my hands on some real swords and armor. I also got some instruction on fighting from some experts. I learned enough that day to know I needed to go back and revise a few action scenes.

Suz said...

It's true, experiencing things is the best form of research. Or you could do like one of my author friends suggested and just make shit up.

Old Kitty said...

OH I like this!!! I think thorough research and experience - even if it;s just the experience of feeling something about something are always great pools to work from!!! And memories - they may be tainted as one grows old (ahem) but they're always very useful! I have a lot of murderous intent in my current wip.. erm... I guess I relied heavily on my imagination for these scenes!!!

Is that you as a little kiddie?? Awwwww!! Take care
x

Clarissa Draper said...

My family usually knows when I write a chapter because I'll drop certain true events into the novel. But, I do agree that you should do some research before you have your characters doing it.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

I have definitely adapted real life experiences into my stories! Maybe not quite as big as sky diving (though I've done it!) but more the little things.

Like completely awkward moments...I usually make note of them right after they happen if I can, to remember the feeling sharply :)

Or when something happens that I can use for a description--like when we had a huge blizzard two years ago and the trees completely iced over. They made this beautiful and eerie wind chime music all night while the wind blew.

Or emotions--the betrayal of a friend from high school, which I still remember so vividly. Makes writing YA much easier in some aspects!

Aaaaand I've now written my own blog post in your comments, lol!

Stuff like that :)

Ted Cross said...

I'm bad about the 'taking notes' part. I have seen so many fascinating things, both cool and dangerous, and I sure wish I had kept great notes about it all. Even simple little anecdotes could often make great stories. Sadly, I have forgotten most such unless a person I know jogs my memory about something.

Amanda said...

I really want to take a martial arts or fencing class for book research, but I live in such a small town, there just aren't any classes to take. I'm going to do some gun research this spring though, and flex my shooting muscles. Hope I don't crack myself in the face! Haha

Carolyn Abiad said...

This is probably the single most important reason places in my alternate universe are adapted from real places in this one. Make sense?

Paul Joseph said...

I'm not allowed to experience the life of a mental health patient unless I 201 myself, which, if I had insurance, I might consider. However, I may have gone to visit one, and I may have pretended I was concerned about my younger brother, and I may have toured as much of the facility as the manager would allow. Maybe.

Cynthia Lee said...

I don't necessarily write about stuff I know. I might include something in a story, an image usually or an idea, that I've had in my head for a long time.

For example, I once watched an afternoon cartoon (back in the 70's when I was maybe 8) about John Henry and his 9 lb hammers, the steam drill and the mountain and all of that and I've never forgotten it. I have a feeling that I may revisit this image in a future project because it's kind of embedded in my head and it wants out.

maine character said...

I did base it off of some things I had already done, which is sort of like the past participle of research.

That's just perfect.

Colene Murphy said...

Interesting! Good points. Basing things off of experiences we can have or have already had are key. When I first started out people kept telling me that I should only write about things I had done. Which was actually really confusing when you read books about things that don't exist. I wish someone had clarified the difference! Awesome stuff!

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Right now the book I'm working on rough draft stage wise is set in Tempe, where I went down to and participated in my first ever writer's conference in 2008. I really liked the area enough to think I'd move there. That hasn't happened, but writing about a character who lives there is the next best thing.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Sometimes I think, yeah, gotta go travel and get some research done! Then I think, but Zoe, you're WAAYYYY too antisocial. *shrugs* P.S. there's an award for you over on my blog (second to most recent post :)

Wanda Vaughn said...

I asked a local radio talk show host if I could sit in and observe one of his shows for research. It was a really cool 2 hours!

And for one story I started asking my deputy husband all kinds of weird questions. His response? "What kind of story are you writing?! *grin*

Michael G-G said...

Way to go, using former knuckleheadhood for writing inspiration. The more I read about you, the more I want these kick-ass warrior monks to kick and punch their way onto the page and into my local bookstore. Go, MacNish, go!

(About the name change. Did I miss something along the way? MacNish has a nice Celtic twang to it. In honor of St. Patrick's day, perhaps?)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Doing is my favorite kind of research! I regularly volunteer at a soup kitchen, and this has given me a lot of experience and understanding--so it makes sense that I'd write a book that deals with homelessness. Which I did! :)

LTM said...

I love the idea of reform school and all your camping adventures. Of course, I'm an ex-camper myself. I did use the experience of getting rear-ended in my current MS that's being shopped. And I guess I sort of incorporate experiences into scenes. Like performing onstage w/ballet & theater into current WIP, stuff like that. But rarely verbatim experiences. Good stuff--look at little you! :o) <3

erica and christy said...

My sister once decided to follow a band cross-country for a year. Afterward (surprise) she couldn't afford rent and asked my parents to help. Instead, they shipped a tent to her PO Box and she lived in it (in Steamboat Springs, CO) for three months until it got too cold.

My life's unremarkable that way. But someday maybe I'll write about hers. :)
erica

Slamdunk said...

It seems some of my fav writers have done some of the participatory research that you describe.

One of the best is MIT professor John Van Maanen who immersed himself in a variety of subcultures including Gloucester fishermen, Disneyland ride operators, US patrol officers, and London detectives before writing about them.

Hannah Kincade said...

Every experience I've had, I put in to writing in some way. Something happens, I write...most often twisting it into something dark and twisty but I do mostly writing horror-ish fiction.