Wednesday, September 4, 2013

YouTubing For Details by Melissa Jagears

Hands-on research is a great way to add those details and senses to your story, but sometimes hands-on research isn't practical or possible. Fortunately, there's YouTube. Author Melissa Jagears provides some tips for using YouTube videos for your research. -- Sandy

Melissa: How do you write about something you’ve never experienced, like milking a cow, shooting a Gatling gun, skinning a rabbit, jumping from an airplane, sitting on a beach in Hawaii? Of course, the best way to authentically write about such things is to do them yourself, but a writer’s time is limited!

You could ask an expert or read a book, but these instructions often aren’t given with the fiction writer in mind. These resources may leave out interesting sensory details: the visual, the audio, and perhaps even the tactile you might glean from watching the process. Also, they’re unlikely to volunteer the nuances of how an excited, anxious, angry, unsure, annoyed, etc. character might interact with the props and go through the procedures that you as a writer would cue in on if you watched or did these things yourself.

So what is the next best thing to scheduling a trip to Hawaii and putting your toes in the sand yourself? YouTube. This is one source I think writers often overlook.

There are many videos on YouTube that can help you write about things you may never have seen or done AND to check your assumptions. You may have an idea of how animals are skinned, maybe you’ve even skinned an animal yourself, but if you’ve never skinned a rabbit, are you sure it’s the process you think it is? (You know there are readers who’ll call you out on being wrong!)

But don’t look up just one video! Follow good research advice and verify with multiple. There is more than one way to skin a cat! (Um, I don’t recommend looking up those YouTube Videos!!!!) You can learn from several experts on YouTube often in less time than you could travel to your nearest one.

I recommend typing “how to” or “tutorial” in your YouTube searches. Tutorials not only let you watch an activity, but the expert explains what they are doing as well.

YouTube videos also make great pins for your book on Pinterest. The Pinterest board for my novella (Entitled Love by the Letter which came out free a few days ago) includes YouTube pins on how to tat (the heroine’s sister’s hobby) and a video of a man playing a Jew’s Harp (my hero plays this instrument). For my debut novel’s Pinterest board (Entitled A Bride for Keeps), I included YouTube videos on how to strain milk and make dogbane cord, both of these activities are mentioned in the novel. These YouTube pins provide interested readers with bonus sensory material.

And for those interested in the experiences I listed above for fun: Milk a cow by hand, Hear a Gatling Gun, Skin a rabbit, Paratroopers preparing to jump (Shout out to the 82nd Airborne Division; my husband was 82nd and did countless of these jumps!), Beach sounds in Hawaii.

Have you used any YouTube Videos for your writing research? What is the most unique place/thing you've researched using YouTube?


Melissa Jagears, an ESL teacher by trade, is a stay-at-home mother to two small children on a tiny Kansas farm with a fixer-upper house. She's a member of ACFW and CROWN fiction marketing, and her passion is to help Christian believers mature in their faith and judge rightly. Her debut novel, A Bride for Keeps, will be released Oct. 1, 2013. The novel’s prequel, Love by the Letter, is available as a free ebook download. Learn more at