Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to Write a Romance--Research

So, research. The word alone makes lesser mortals tremble. I’m kidding. Research is the stuff you do that isn’t actual writing but you need to make your writing better. Besides, you shouldn’t be afraid to learn new things or learn things more in depth.
I can’t think of a writing project I have undertaken that didn’t require research.

For THE WISH LIST, I didn’t have much research to do. It was my world, my rules. But…the story is set in San Diego. I went to college in San Diego. My husband grew up in San Diego. My father-in-law lives in San Diego. Nevertheless, I had to do research on places. So not only did I ask my husband about all his memories of the city, I also played on Google Earth for days, pored over maps, and visited hundreds of web sites. And when we went to spend the holidays with my FIL, we drove around the city itself. I found the cottage that appears in my novel. And since then I have written the second book, SPELLBOUND, but before I finished we drove around Del Mar just so I could get a feel for the place.

Research isn’t always so physical, but it will happen in one form or another. Most romance writers think research is only necessary if you’re working on a historical. Wrong. There’s always something. Now that I’m working on the third book of the series, TOIL AND TROUBLE, I needed to do research on weaving. (My heroine weaves—she couldn’t be a German teacher, no. she is a weaver.) The worst thing about my research on weaving is that I suddenly started thinking that I want to learn to weave in reality. Don’t worry. I talked myself off that ledge pretty easily (Like I have time to add a hobby.) But the research was so cool.

Whether you need to find out if a person who gets knocked out, then rouses to have a conversation with the heroine, then passes out again, would live in the Middle Ages (It helps if your critique partner is a nurse—Thanks, Brenda) (Oh, and by the way, he probably wouldn’t) or if you need to know which poison works the fastest, its all about gaining knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Research is crucial because you WILL receive letters or comments from people who do know more than you. I remember reading a story set in Venice, Italy, and within the first three chapters the hero and heroine were driving around Venice in a coach and four. Really? In Venice? Uh, no. I read a romance set in New Mexico where the hero ate a dinner of typically New Mexican food: red and green chili. That’s not a meal. Red and Green CHILE are condiments. Even expertise in an area doesn’t make you immune to criticism. I have a friend who has owned or ridden horses her entire life. She participated in equestrian events as a child and still has horses today. She entered a contest with a manuscript that has horses in it. The judge dinged her on her horse information, then wrote that she had been around horses her whole life and if my friend needed help with horse stuff she could contact the judge.

I haven’t written one…yet…but I would wager that elements of sci fi stories need research.

The danger of doing too much cool research is using way more than you need in your story. Most people don’t read romances to learn about a topic (although you certainly can learn from romance novels). In using what I learned about weaving, I didn’t think I had to go into all the parts of the loom. I needed to know about it so I could write comfortably, but my goal isn’t to educate the reader. My goal was to be knowledgeable enough about the subject not to make mistakes when I wrote about weaving. I don’t want to receive letters that tell me my heroine couldn’t do that (Of course my heroine knows magic, so who’s to say she couldn’t weave that way with her powers-heeheehee).

So where do you begin? Wherever you wish. There is no right way to research. There are sources available everywhere, and all kinds of sources available. If you want a short list of sources you may not have thought of, visit my web site and click on the “For Writers” page. There you will find an article on Historical Research, but many of the items apply to all kinds of research.

So plunge into the research and don’t be afraid that you’ll do something wrong. Knowledge is good, and knowing more is better. And who knows, maybe you will teach yourself and readers about whole new worlds. How can that be scary?


Books I’m reading now:
My RITA novels, and I’m not telling you what they are—confidentiality must be maintained (For you non-RWA readers, the RITA is the award given for the best romance novels of the year.)

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