Wednesday, July 2, 2014

10 Writing Location Research Tips by Janalyn Voigt

Author Janalyn Voigt's introduction speaks for itself, so ...

Janalyn: If you’re like most writers, being an introverted soul, you would rather plant yourself in front of the computer to write than go somewhere for anything but necessities. At the prospect of a research trip to a location you’re writing about, however, that magically changes.  Images of your jotting notes on the fly, gazing awe-struck at scenery, or photographing an artifact jockey in your mind.   

It can be like that, except of course when it’s not. Failing to prepare for a research trip can result in missed opportunities, wasted time, and a lot of frustration.

How to Prepare for a Research Trip

1.      Outline your book ahead of time. This helps you identify the research questions you need to answer for the story.
2.      Isolate the areas of research you need to tackle on this trip. If you are writing a series, for example, you may need to whittle down your research to that required for your current book and save investigating for the next book until later. You have only so much time and energy, so use it well.
3.      Identify people you want to talk with and set up an appointment in advance. Believe me when I say this becomes a herculean task when you are living out of suitcases while traveling about. Be sure to provide your phone number and ask for one you can call if plans change. Doing this can mean the difference between a lost connection and an informative meeting.
4.      Create an efficient itinerary. Lay out your stops in a logical order with little-to-no backtracking. Start with the most important location and work from there. Then, if the unexpected happens and you experience delays or have to curtail the trip, you will at least have spent time at the most important site.
5.      Make hotel reservations in advance. Having an itinerary helps you determine where you’ll be spending the night. Don’t, as my husband and I once did, leave finding a room in a partial ghost town to chance. We discovered on our arrival, and with many miles to the nearest town, that the town was closed for the season. Fortunately, one proprietress let us sleep in a converted shack. Lesson learned.
6.      Make sure of admission prices, times, and special arrangements. Arriving at closing time means you will either return or skip the site. Some historical sites are kept locked, requiring special arrangements to be viewed. Work this out in advance.
7.      Check news for the location you plan to visit. A ghost town I planned to visit was shut down following a flash flood. Had I gone when I’d originally planned, I’d have been turned away from my main research site. Fortunately, I rescheduled the trip for a later date, and only then discovered the closure.
8.      Allow for having less energy. Accept that travel is tiring, and you will give yourself grace if you can’t accomplish everything you planned to do.
9.      Don’t rely on memory.  I’ve done this more times than I care to admit. When you are standing in a place, it seems like you will never forget it, but that’s not the truth. Your memories will become sketchy or fade. This is why capturing the essence of a place in writing, images, or audio is so important. Remember especially to record the impressions you pick up with your senses.
10.  Schedule your research trip efficiently. Being able to complete your project as soon as possible afterwards is best. If you let too much time elapse between your trip and writing the story, it will be harder to immerse yourself in detail. It’s not possible to record every impression while on location, so moving right into your project when you return home is the smart thing to do.

Having a sense of humor eases the stress of traveling for research. Even when you’ve prepared to the best of your ability, your plans can go astray for reasons outside your control. I once planned to visit a historic ranch, only to find it closed due to a budget stalemate. There’s not a lot you can do about something like that, so why not give yourself permission to see the humor in it? Move on, and you may discover one of the nicest things about travel to a writing research location--serendipity.

Now that’s worth leaving home for.

Any tips to add? How far have you traveled for the sake of research? What is the most inspiring/interesting/surprising place you've visited while researching a novel?


Janalyn Voigt is a writer and professional speaker with a photography habit and a passion for travel. She blends adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy to create worlds of beauty and danger for readers. Beginning with DawnSinger, Janalyn’s epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, carries readers into a land only imagined in dreams. Novelist Linda Windsor has described Janalyn’s unique writing style as bardic prose. In a marriage of location, genre, and writing voice, Janalyn is developing a romantic suspense series set in Ireland.

Janalyn is represented by Sarah Joy Freese of Wordserve Literary. Her memberships include American Christian Fiction Writers and Northwest Christian Writers Association. She maintains separate websites for her Creative Worlds author brand, Literary Wayfarer travel writing identity, and for mentoring other writers at Live Write Breathe

Visit Janalyn Voigt at her author website.