Saturday, March 21, 2015

Your story details? You Have To Get Them Right!

In my 1928 California historical, this mansion came to play a big part

All story genres take some research for establishing details in the setting. A few years ago, in 1997, I saw a movie called Inventing the Abbots.  It was set in the 50's and they had the houses, the clothes, the young people--all as things actually were in the 50's.  And then, lo, at the end of the movie a suitcase appeared, and it was 1997 suitcase and the mood was totally broken.  Just like when, in About Schmidt, the house portrayed in Denver was frame.  The city of Denver has brick houses--had them for years.  Probably since the town suffered a horrible fire.  It's always been that way.  Someone didn't do his or her homework. 

If the writer has  done her research, her knowledge will inform the story and make it believable.  Correct setting and details will even help the writer's ficticious leaps become believeable, because everything else will be.  The most difficult research I've had to do was in the novel I just finished, one set in 1928 Southern California.  The nineteen books I used for reference are still stacked on the bookcase. The books and perhaps 120-150 bookmarks on my computer where I found information  I needed.  I also had some original letters and my mother's scrapbook and photo album.  Those were pure gold.
My husband and I spent a week in California doing on site research.  I even found the house my mom had lived in the summer of 1928.  I walked the streets of the town, and we poked around Pasadena.  Historical museums are a goldmine of information.  I read a newspaper clipping and the incident it described went right into my book.   We drove into Arroyo Seco in Pasadena and I found a spot where I set a of couple scenes.  A camera is a writer's best friend when doing research, and plain old note cards (I favor the larger ones)  are a close second. In the photo above, I found a layout of the rooms and photos of most of them.  Did I  use the information I gleaned in my story?  You bet I did.

When I researched my novel, Festival Madness, partially set at Burning Man, the blowing alkalai dust was so fericious even the use of  a camera could be iffy, but the note cards were impervious to dust. And of course I put a duststorm into the book.

 I researched World of Mirrors on an island in former East Germany.  I wanted to hear what a big modern windmill sounded like, and we finally were able to park and walk right up to one.  Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!  Like a big prehistoric bird flapping her wings and preparing to fly.  How else would I have known?

The Internet is great, but it can only take you so far. Get out of the house, find your locale and discover everything.  The little details are what make your writing believable.  And, the best part is:  it's fun!.

The bloggers listed below also have some great ideas on researching your story or novel.  Take a look!  

 Rachael Kosnski
Margaret Fieland
Beverley Bateman
Skye Taylor
Rachael Kosnski
Heidi M. Thomas
Marci Baun
Anne Stenhouse
Helena Fairfax
Connie Vines
Kay Sisk
Fiona McGier
A.J. Maguire
J  Lynn Crain
Rhobin Courtright


  1. Judith, I remember watching Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson in Bird on a Wire. It was a good movie until the couple were riding a motorcycle and stopped on a bluff to look over the Missouri River and down onto St. Louis. Living in St. Louis, I knew there were no bluffs to look down on St. Louis from the other side of the river. You are so right! It's great to go where your setting is as the Internet does not have sounds, smells, taste, or touch sensations. Good post.

  2. Hi Judy, great post. I have a happy vision of you and your husband listening to the windmill. Anne, in Edinburgh,

  3. Nice blog post and how true about seeing something that doesn't belong. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Wow, noneteen books and over a hundred book marks on the computer. That's a lot of research.
    I like your idea of getting out and seeing things. That's the part I enjoy.

  5. I love traveling to a place I'm going to write about. Even if my "location" is going to be an imaginary town, it still helps to FEEL the ambiance of the area, dine at local restaurants and sample local specialities etc. I envy you the California trip.

  6. How wonderful to be able to travel to the different places you needed to research. I wrote a short story set in a village in Argentina. As I've never been there, I did most of my research on the Internet, but I also happen to have neighbors who are from there. I could ask them questions. :D The challenge, though, was that it was set in the 1960s. There is less information about these countries in the 60s than now, even in the libraries.

    As for movies, Hollywood is notorious for making things up. One made for TV series Buffalo Girls was so inaccurate, it still upsets me to this day. Why? Because I spoke to so many young people (and older people) who took it as accurate and truth. It was not remotely true.

    Pant... pant... LOL


  7. Someday I hope to have the time to travel, to get personal experience with new places to write about. For now I try to stick to locations I've actually been to, which does limit me to the Midwest in the US. Thank goodness for the internet!


Your comments are always welcome!