It’s All In The Details
Posted on March 3, 2016
If I can avoid doing research when writing a book, I will. But I can’t, so I try to make it as painless as possible. It isn’t. I’d hate to think of what would happen if I ever came up with an incredible plot that took place hundreds of years ago. Either I’d update the whole thing or the characters would magically be transported to modern day, effectively ruining the entire point of writing the story in the first place. Oh, yeah. I can sabotage just about anything to get out of doing research.
I was working on my current WIP two nights ago and it takes place in the Midwest during the 1970s. Now you’d think I’d remember more about the 1970s than I do since I was born in the 70s. But no. Popular songs? Okay, those were fun to look up and I found an online station that plays hits from that decade with no commercials. I didn’t have to sign up for it or download an app. Take that, J.P. Barnaby!
There was a little trouble that cropped up when I was writing about a little town in Iowa. Or was it a city? What the hell is the difference between a city or town? Did I really need to know that crap? No. And there’s a plot point with a local deputy. Or is it a police officer? I kept the character as a deputy because it sounded better, but I needed to have a police station in town. So, yes, I had to look up whether the place was actually a city or town. To have a police station based on its location in relation to the area, it had to be a city. And since sheriffs and deputies are county authorities and police are city authorities, I had to go and change all my deputy titles to officer.
What a pain in the ass! How many people are going to know the difference if I didn’t look these things up? Plenty, but I’d also know and it would bug me day and night.
The main character stays in motels while he’s on the road, so I had to look up some descriptions of motels in the 1970s too. Did the rooms have televisions in them? Did some of the places offer free coffee or continental breakfasts? What brand of coffee? And let’s not forget his job, the reason he’s out on the road in the first place. I knew he’d have a government job, but nothing cliché. And because he has a certain freedom to travel around, which is necessary to the plot, I had to look at jobs during that period, when certain organizations came into existence, what their duties were, and what authority they had.
Another pain in the ass.
I’m still not entirely sure what I came up with works, but it’ll do for the first draft until I can take a deep dive later. I’ve actually even contacted the organization he’d theoretically work for and asked a couple of questions. They were very kind in responding, so I may have to take a trip and visit one of their offices. That might be fun. I just hope they don’t ask me what the plot of the book is because this is some dark material I’m writing.
Aside from the research, which is just window dressing—necessary window dressing, by the way—the dialogue is what’s going to keep the reader turning the page. The setting is important in how the story unfolds, but the interaction between the characters is what drives it. And you know what? I’m having a ball with the dialogue, darkness and all. I’m even liking some of the seventies references like television shows, popular movies, and brands of toothpaste that are being added for literary flavor.
But it’s one of the few times I’ll be doing this kind of research. What a pain in the ass.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.
9 Responses to “It’s All In The Details”
Cindy Pass says:
March 3, 2016 at 11:19 am
I’m one of those that will appreciate all your hard work with the research. I’m sure the references you pick to flesh out your characters and settings will bring back some fun memories for me. It will be worth it. I’m SO looking forward to something dark from you.
March 3, 2016 at 11:40 am
Well, there will be three dark things in total. lol The first was Falling Awake. The second is the companion to that. The third will resolve the story in the first book. Mind you, I blame J.P. Barnaby for getting me to embrace the darkness.
AJ Llewellyn says:
March 3, 2016 at 12:19 pm
I love this! I adore research and really spend time doing it. I learned an incredible tip from mystery author Harley Jane Kozak though – she told me once that if you need to learn about a topic fast and need it to be accurate, get a children’s book on the subject (thank you local library!). She said children’s books are distilled to the most important details in a relatable way and always accurate.
March 3, 2016 at 1:24 pm
That’s actually an absolutely solid bit of advice! I hadn’t thought of that.
Patricia Logan says:
March 3, 2016 at 12:31 pm
I love research! When I wrote The Thief, which is a book about a character who returns artwork stolen by the Nazis, I had a ball with it. I learned a hell of a lot I never knew– so much that I even included an afterword in the book to expand upon it. As a reward for my research, almost every review mentioned how much they appreciated it. For me, it was a serious topic and I thought it would reflect in the book if I didn’t give a damn. I know it takes time but it definitely pays off.
March 3, 2016 at 1:29 pm
If I come by something organically, I’ll include it in a story much easier than if I have to look it up. I even made fun of myself in last year’s anthology when the main character, a writer, is interacting with the characters in his head whilst he’d writing:
We dove off the wagon just as it reared up on its side and collapsed in a heap, horses and all. My poor Victorinox luggage!
“Excuse me,” Miss Kiernan interjected. “There’s no such thing as Victorinox luggage at this time in the Old West.”
I didn’t ask for your opinion. It’s my story and you’re not even in this scene, so please shush.
“Here.” I reached out to hand Dustin his Remington rifle. His hand brushed up against mine when he grabbed a hold of the rifle, and I swear every nerve in my body lit up like a Christmas tree covered in hundreds of LED lights.
“Didn’t have those in the Old West either!” Miss Kiernan corrected him.
“Does this asshole ever do any research?” Miss Tis seethed.
Patricia Logan says:
March 3, 2016 at 2:43 pm
Eddie Lam says:
March 3, 2016 at 9:32 pm
I could tell from your book, all the details are art of work. I was impressed when I read your Falling Awake, the history of Vietnam. I knew you did a lot of research and it works! The story flow and bring your audience to a part of the world they never experience.
I just wonder if it would be easier for writer to write fantasy.
March 3, 2016 at 11:36 pm
Probably not. When you build a world from scratch, you have to be consistent and you have give enough details that readers understand the world you’ve created. I know an author who writes Fantasy, Kayelle Allen, and she has maps of the galaxy she has created, and a website to explain it all. That’s how detailed she’s gotten.
I’d pull my hair out.
I lucked out with the research I did on Vietnam, especially the meanings of the names. It all fell into place and worked, plus it helped I had a native of the country to help me out.