Pictures, YouTube videos, magazines…we writers have the best excuse to study them all. Whether it’s Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp or Justin Babemagnet, they’re our source of hero material. The same with travel. Anywhere a writer goes is fuel for a future book, and the trip most likely tax deductible. Check with your accountant on this, it’s not my field, but we have to get our material from somewhere. Vacations are a great resource.
A few years ago I sailed to Cape York and Thursday Island on a converted cargo vessel. Before setting off I decided this would be a complete vacation. I wouldn’t take notes, hunt out possible locations, collect local real estate magazines for property references. My writer brain would be completely off line. After travelling widely in the name of research, this really appealed and I soaked it up. Snorkelling, fishing, sight seeing, wining, dining, all done without a notebook in sight.
Then I came home and…I’m sure you can guess the rest. Yep. I wrote the entire trip into a book called Island of Dreams which was later serialised in Woman’s Day. And I kicked myself for not keeping receipts as proof that I’d been working the whole way. Because I had. Unbeknown even to myself, I’d stored away scenes and story possibilities for what became a widely translated book, one of my favourites.
Lesson learned. No matter where I’ve travelled since, I consider the trip at least partly research. Because the well has to be filled somehow. Your first few books may be written from experience and set in familiar places. But sooner or later you’ll need new input and the stimulation of new experiences. You may not use any of it for months or years, but you will find yourself dipping into the well and coming up with a snippet you don’t remember storing away, and giving it to a character in a current project.
You see, writers are never off duty. Always some part of us is observing and taking note of the people, sights, sounds and smells we’ll later use in a story. That’s just how it is.
There’s only so much you can learn from online research. To really bring a location to life, you have to be there and feel how it feels. Writers of fantasy or paranormal books have different challenges. For the most part you can’t physically visit the places in your books. But I’ll bet anything that the rainforest glade on Planet Glorious will have its inspiration in some magical place you visited here on earth.
What’s your favourite kind of research? Have you been intrigued enough by an author’s research to want to visit the places she describes? I created a restaurant in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia and had readers asking for its address, as sorry as I was that it’s made up. People also say they’d like to visit Carramer, my South Pacific island kingdom. It’s a fantasy, too, but if you visit Noumea and Hawaii, you’ll see where my inspiration came from. Research is fun and writers are always doing it, whether we know it or not. So look at your hunky guy pictures and dream of your faraway places. For a writer, it’s all in a day’s work.
on Twitter @valerieparv