I haven’t started the second draft; I’m still on “break.” But I can do little things to prepare for it, things I don’t consider as “work.” I call it the fun type of research.
Some people would argue that all research is fun. They’re easily absorbed in reading mythology or historical records. Me… not so much. I will admit to a slight geeky thrill when I pretend to be intellectual. And I do enjoy learning interesting tidbits I can incorporate into my story. However, I eventually tire of taking notes and citing sources. It gets even more tedious for online research, when I have to Google and Wikipedia my way to some decent answers. Maybe I’m just not organized enough to appreciate this aspect of research.
In my opinion, it’s more fun to experience the research firsthand. Friday I got to visit a nearby recreation area, the setting for THE RIVER’S EDGE. I hadn’t been there since last fall (a section of the park had been closed when snow made the road too treacherous), so I was curious to see how it would look in spring. Son came with me, distracting me now and then. Fortunately, the park has a playground that entertained him while I “researched.”
I brought a small notebook with me and wrote down all the details I could notice: sounds, smells, sights, taste, and touch. Okay, taste was hard. I didn’t eat anything while there, so I tried to figure out what I could taste. Sometimes I think I can taste strong smells, so I paid close attention to the difference between smell and taste. I’ve read books in which emotions had taste—especially fear. Melissa Marr’s INK EXCHANGE (a YA novel) is the best example I’ve read of incorporating taste into the story.
I struggled with taste, but the other senses were easier. I know several bird calls, so I wrote down every bird that sang. I heard sounds from the nearby campground. I could smell the river and the woods (no flowers yet! Hopefully soon). I sketched the layout of the park, copied down signs, and noted the most obvious landmarks. My feet felt the change from gravel to grass to forest floor. I touched the playground and threw a pebble into the water.
Notice how I didn’t really describe anything. It’s more like a list, because I was short on time and attention. But these are the building blocks of description. When it comes time to write the second draft, I’ll refer to this list and imagine I’m back in that setting. My goal will be to weave in the details lyrically, creating a three-dimensional world that feels realistic and complete.
So what can you do if your story takes place in Italy, but you don’t have the time or money to visit? Probably the next best option is watching movies in that setting. Good movies capture the sights and sounds of a place. You obviously can’t smell, taste, or feel via your television… but if you’ve experienced something similar, use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Inspire yourself by eating Italian food during the movie! Nonfiction books, especially travel guides, can also give you a wealth of information for a setting.
However, even books and movies sometimes make mistakes (or perhaps we misinterpret the details). So if you can’t visit the setting, find someone who can—preferably someone who lives there. Then have that person read your story for accuracy. They also might suggest details you can add to enrich the narrative. We want to avoid embarrassing mistakes in our writing, but we also want our story world to be as real as possible.
What if your story takes place in a fantasy world or made-up town? Creating a good setting might be even more important in this case. Your readers will never be able to visit it, so make them feel as if they’re already there. Appeal to all five senses wherever you go.
I’m curious to hear what works for you. How do you prepare for a second draft? What research do you use to improve your setting? Is it fun… or work?
Have a great week, everyone!