Monday, February 29, 2016

The Art of the Research Trip by Liz Johnson

Hey writers! Annette here. Have you ever taken a research trip for a book? Many years ago, I did before I realized I'd be writing about that location. Author Liz Johnson joins us today to share some tips for being intentional on such trips. Enjoy!

 The Art of the Research Trip
by Liz Johnson
Of all the treasured parts of the writing process, perhaps the most illustrious and misunderstood is the research trip. To the outsider it looks like a vacation

But the writer knows a research trip is more of a mad dash to pick up every detail to infuse her novel with as much flavor as possible. As novelists, we also know that our job isn’t to write travel books. We’re not looking for the major streets or merely the address of that popular restaurant our character will frequent (of course, it’s important to get those kind of details right too). On research trips we’re looking for the things that make our stories come alive, the sights and sounds and tastes that immerse the reader into our setting.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting Prince Edward Island, the setting for my new series and home of Anne of Green Gables, several times. On my first trip I was so excited to be there that I missed some great opportunities to dig into the island. To help you avoid my mistakes, here are my top five tips for a successful research trip.

1. Talk with the locals. Of course, this is much easier if you speak the same language they do. But however you can, interact with them. An unexpected chat with a local teenager, who was manning the school house at an historic village in PEI, taught me that the University of PEI in Charlottetown is on nearly every student’s post-graduation agenda. It’s a small thing, but it adds some flavor when I mention that one of my characters didn’t even consider attending UPEI. You never know what locals will say and what ideas it might spark for your story.

2. Pick up some of the language. Maybe it’s foreign, maybe it’s not. On one of my trips I asked one of the servers at my bed-and-breakfast if she knew how far it was to a particular tourist spot. She said it was about twenty minutes, and I asked her how many kilometers that was. (I was feeling pretty proud that I remembered Canada uses the metric system.) “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m from the island, and we measure distance in time.” It was such a strange and wonderful discovery—that locals don’t generally reference distance by measure but by time—that I immediately plopped the idea into my book.

3. Pay attention to all your senses. Plugging in sense memories will make your reader feel like she’s not only in the story but in the very location you’ve discovered.

4. Put yourself in your character’s shoes. Is your character a native to this location? Or is he a visitor? If the latter, your character’s experiences might mirror your own. Is she a local? Is the town’s history old hat? Have her friends moved on leaving her alone in this place? Ask yourself these and other questions and see if you don’t view your surroundings with a fresh perspective.

5. Take loads of pictures. It’s easy to believe that you’ll remember. That you’ll remember the name of the road, the color of the trees, the location of the historical building. Chances are, you’ll forget. So take pictures, and take notes. You’ll appreciate it when you’re ready to put all these pieces into place.

No matter how you approach a research trip—if you get a chance to go, I hope you’ll take it and make good use of it.

Have you ever been on a research trip? Where would you like to go to research your next book?


About Liz Johnson: By day Liz Johnson works as a marketing manager, and she makes time to write late at night. Liz is the author of nine novels—including her latest, The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, book 1)—and a New York Times bestselling novella. She makes her home in Nashville, where she enjoys exploring local music, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. Connect with her at or

About The Red Door Inn: Marie Carrington is broke, desperate, and hoping to find sanctuary on Prince Edward Island while decorating a renovated bed-and-breakfast. Seth Sloane moved three thousand miles to help restore his uncle's Victorian B and B--and to forget about the fiancée who broke his heart. He wasn't expecting to have to babysit a woman with a taste for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes past her.

The only thing Marie and Seth agree on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just two months will take everything they've got—and they have to find a way to work together. In the process, they may find something infinitely sweeter than they ever imagined on this island of dreams.