Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Researching Your Novel & Characters' Emotions

My first novel, Sign of the Times is already available on Amazon - only £1.53 or (for customers outwith UK - price varies)

Hello again.  I am earlier today.  Have rattled off another 1600 words and the novel is still going in the right direction - excellent.
Now I said I was going to talk a bit about researching your novel and I am. Research to me comes in many forms.  You can jet off to Italy and absorb the atmosphere, take in every detail, so you can write great description and evoke great images.  If you don't have that at your disposal, the internet is a fabulous mine of information and images to help take you there.  It is easier to write what you know, as the saying goes, but let's face it, few of us, unless it's an autobiography, are writing solely about what and who we know. Rather we are taking our life experiences (sometimes) and applying them to the characters who have sprung from our imaginations.  I was asked by a reader, who knows me relatively well, if I was Holly from Sign of the Times.  I assured her that the only things we had in common were our starsign, our love of travelling and our distaste for poor customer service!! When I researched Sign of the Times, for the 12 starsigns, I chose a profession typical for each starsign. That, combined with the personality traits common to those starsigns, were the building blocks for the 12 characters I created. 

Although I had been to Bibbiena in Italy, Glencoe and other parts of Scotland (being Scottish) and Lucerne in Switzerland, which all feature in my first novel, the events came from my imagination, coupled with me checking many things on the internet.  It is, however, imperative, not only to write, but to research.  I can't for the life of me remember the name I originally used for one of the characters, but it was akin to calling him Jonny Wilkinson. Fortunately my editor picked up the fact that I had managed to include a celebrity name in my novel unintentionally and it was changed.  Now, there may be a Holly Jameson or a Gill McFadden (the main character of the new novel), but I have checked on Google that they aren't famous.

My absolute clanger which again was picked up by FiBroon (editor), was originally having Ben in Sign of the Times work for the mountain rescue.  I had no idea that the mountain rescue are all volunteers.  I think she knew someone who was and that's why she knew, but who knew?  They do a great job. You'd think they would at least get paid! So, I contacted Glencoe Mountain Rescue and asked them several questions about the detail I was putting in my novel and they made some corrections and gave me a lot of help.  You don't have to be a bestselling author to ask for help of this nature. I find generally an email or a phone call gets me the info I need. 

The new novel involves a dating agency and the potential dates have varying careers. I wanted to check that the qualifications I had given them truly existed, ie check that you are not having someone doing a History of Art degree at a university specialising in the sciences.  As long as the course exists now, I am happy that I have done my research well enough.  I am not going to go back and check if the course existed when the candidate went to university in 1983.  But, I am picky about detail, ie was the university a university then, or was it a polytechnic, such as is the case with Glasgow Caledonian University.  As my parting shot on research, rightly or wrongly, so far I have done my research, apart from the zodiac part for Sign of the Times, as I write. It's not all planned out at the beginning, although the chapter plans and the rough beginning/middle/end are.  I research on an hourly and daily basis, plus new everyday events become possible ideas for developing my novel.

I talked in the last few days about getting to know your characters.  I make character plans for each character, unless they are very minor.  The more well-rounded your characters are and the more you add to them, whether it's their likes/dislikes, or how they would react in a situation, the more you are going to be able to relate to them.  If you feel the character's emotions and can empathise with them, or want to engage in some way, ie become frustrated, want to congratulate them, want to give them a shake, you are relating to them and this means they have got under your skin. I cried when I wrote one of the character's chapters in Sign of the Times.  I'll leave it to you to read the novel and tell me which one you think it was!  If you feel you are putting yourself in their shoes, I feel I have done an effective job as a writer.  Likewise, when you have a book that grips you and you don't want to put it down, usually there is either a lot of action, or you are emotionally involved in the text. 

Friday, I will be back with the latest progress of my new novel and talking about Slang and it's place in Writing and How To Market Yourself, being a  newly Self-Published author.  Have a great afternoon, Sooz

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