Thursday, September 9, 2010

Are You Connected?

Whenever possible, it’s best if you do first-hand research on the setting of your books. By seeing it yourself, you not only get the atmosphere of the setting, you can get the layout of the land, the slang of the people, even the feel of the city.

Sometimes you can’t do the actual research yourself. Or what you need to know is not available on the Internet or it’s available but you’re not sure you can trust it. Sometimes you have to turn to friends.

You’re already keeping a contact list, right? What you may not be doing is making notes in that list. Under the listing for your good bud Lawrence Boozer, you note that his daughter Vodka Boozer is a paramedic and his grandmother Tipsy Boozer used to be a dancer on Broadway. Right now you have no need to know the slang and life of a paramedic or what Broadway used to be like in 1940, but should you ever need that information, you’d have a “first-hand” source to ask.

If I need to know about life on a ranch, I’d turn to my uncle. But if I wanted to know about life on a huge ranch, I’d turn to a friend. He doesn’t have a ranch, but he has a good friend who does. I’ve never met my friend’s friend, but I know he exists because my friend talks about him. And I’ve noted that relationship in my contact list.

I come from a fairly small family, but if I wanted to know about life in a big family, I’d turn to another friend. She has so many brothers and sisters, I’m surprised she can remember all their names.

If I wanted to know about electronic voting machines, how they can be manipulated, how they’re set up and what goes on long before and after voting day, I’d turn to another friend. Although he lives in another part of the country, he’s told stories that make me shiver.

Sometimes I’ve needed medical information. In that case, I turn to my cousin's husband. He's a doctor and has been helpful before. And he doesn't seem to mind my crazy questions. Family ties are wonderful.

If I need to know about day-to-day life in Los Angeles, New York, Minnesota, El Paso, Sheridan, Phoenix, Mississippi, Alaska, and on and on, I have people I can turn to.

I have sources because I try to note things that may one day be of interest to me. Unless you are just obnoxious with your questions, this is not a distasteful thing to do. But if you don’t note the name and connection of the friend of a friend of a second-cousin who is a veterinarian specializing in hippo digestive systems, how will you know who to turn to when you write that romantic suspense book about the vet at the San Diego Zoo?
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its eleventh year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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  1. You actually make notes on your connections? That's such a fantastic idea! I have a horrible memory for names and faces, but I can remember trivia, so when I need someone to help me with information, I am normally able to find someone from my network. But your way is better.

  2. Keeping track of connections is a great idea, Helen!

    I'm using people for research resources more and more frequently. They're able to give me the lingo I'm looking for, or the details on the setting, etc.

    Thanks for your tips!

  3. This is such a simple and useful tool for research I can't understand why I never thought of it myself!! :)


  4. Great tip! I never thought about jotting down my connections for reference.

  5. Getting first hand knowledge is much more reliable than searching books or on the Internet.

  6. Good points. I completely agree. But since I'm just a hobby writer, I see it the other way. I write about things I have already "researched", in the sense that I've lived there, been there, seen it >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  7. I pick up or ask for business cards and put notes on the back. Don't have a card? Not a problem, I carry blanks!
    Started doing this back in cold-call days.
    Very useful information, Helen.

  8. Mary, I do that, too. It's a good way to remember things, especially if you at a conference or somewhere where you're on the go. But then when I get home, I transfer it to my files.

    Ahem, Cold As Heaven, you would make a great "resource" subject.

  9. I cannot believe I never thought of this before. It's brilliant, Helen. You're amazing. Thanks.

  10. Okay, that hippo digestive system comment stopped me cold. I think I can use that in my wip.

    Just kidding!

    The advice is excellent, Helen. I'm thinking about writing a YA mystery book involving search and rescue dogs, and sure enough, my cousin's husband knows a guy whose parents train dogs for various tasks. We need to pay attention and record those connections.


  11. I love, love, love the idea of making comments on your contact list. It's kind of a slap-forehead moment for me. Thanks for providing the slap. :)

  12. Great tips, Helen. Thanks. I have a little file on my computer called 'go-to people' but I never thought about mining my friends. Good idea :)

  13. Great post, Helen! Sometimes we writers live in our make-believe world so much that we overlook the practical things that make our little world turn. I'm thinking that you just cut down countless research hours for many writers who frequent our postings, this one included.

  14. Another thing to remember is that if you don't have anyone on your contact list who can help, turn to your fellow bloggers and ask if they know a first-hand source they could recommend.

  15. I was telling myself I needed to get organized--this summer having been the most disorganized ever (but that's another tale). Now I realize I didn't even know what organized meant. Thanks for the ideas.

  16. Fantastic! I never thought of this. It's another way of networking, and for a different purpose, but so important non-the less.

  17. The older I get the more I need to write things down!

  18. You're right. It helps to get organized and keep track of what other people know so we can turn to them in time of need - like when we need a detail for a book.

    Morgan Mandel

  19. Wonderful idea for research. I love to visit settings on my own, but researching the characters that people my books is another thing entirely. I try to make notes on the backs of cards when I get them. Maybe it would help to carry a small notebook for other useful notations. Lots to think about.

    Mary Montague Sikes

  20. Monti, years ago I bought a Palm. I think it may have been one of the first ones to come out. I store everything in there. I would hate to lose it, but it's backed up on my computer. 'Course with all the hard drive crashes I've had.....

  21. Thanks for the reminder, Helen. I used to keep a notebook just for keeping track of sources when I was doing a lot more freelance writing and researching my nonfiction books. Have kind of let that habit slip more recently, but it makes good sense. Talking to a person about a topic gives you so many more layers than just looking up facts on the Internet.

  22. Maryann, probably time to update the contact info in that notebook.

  23. Good ideas. I'm amazed when I find out the hobbies some of my acquaintances have. And I make note of them for research sources in the future.

  24. I have got a lot of work to do, I can see that right now. But now I know the direction to go to make the most of my time. Thanks for the tip. You got me thinking. I know Doctors, Musicians, Dancers, Lawyers, Vets both animal and military. Wow, I have got a lot to fall back on that I never thought about.

  25. I have a lot of contacts, but I never thought about noting them down and keeping notes about their info on an ongoing basis. Fabulous advice. I have done in person research and that's huge for my writing. But now I know I need to "build my list" as they say in a sales department.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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