Researching by the Seat of Your
By Lonnie Cruse
Copyright © 2007 by Lonnie Cruse, All Rights Reserved
Writers often debate the value of
in-depth outlining versus flying by the seat of their pants. My thought
is, do whatever works for you. But there's a difference between doing
your research using the library or Internet and interviewing experts
versus actually doing hands-on research: researching by the seat of your
pants, if you will.
There is nothing at all wrong with
using the library, the Internet, or experts for your research. But if
you'd really like to get inside your lead character's head, actually
experience what you are about to put that character through, and know
without a doubt you can make your readers feel it too, consider seat of
the pants research.
Have you ever wanted to know what it's
like to be a cop responding to a domestic disturbance call, one of the
most dangerous calls for a police officer to handle? Ever wanted to
ride down the main street of your town at twice the legal speed in the
middle of the night, headed to "shots fired"? Or see firsthand how
boring the paper work part of the job is for that same cop? Instead of
watching Cops on television or interviewing a local officer, why not
take a Citizen's Police Academy class in your town? I took a
one-night-a-week class for eleven weeks, learning about illegal drugs
and how to recognize them, dealing with explosives, police procedure,
crime scene investigation, traffic stops, and other fascinating
subjects. I also signed up for a ride-along; sitting in the front seat
and experiencing what the cop experienced gave me a great feel for what
cops deal with all the time.
Does your character fly a small plane,
drive a semi, cook at a five star restaurant, Bungee jump, or teach
karate? Chances are you can get one free lesson or at least a
demonstration somewhere near you. Not a forensics expert, trial lawyer,
or a paper hanger? There are most likely ways you can shadow someone
who holds the job you want your character to hold, or has a particular
hobby, fascination, or problem that you need to experience firsthand.
Judy Clemmons, author of 'Til The Cows Come Home, worked on a
dairy farm milking cows, and that's about as "hands on" as it gets when
writing a book!
Do you write historical fiction? How
about taking part in a re-enactment, or an Encampment where you spend
the weekend in period costume, living as our ancestors lived? Do you
write science fiction? Where's the nearest NASA facility?
There are zillions of ways to get
hands-on experience and personally do the research instead of using the
library or Internet, or interviewing an expert. Why not give it a try?
You might have fun, and who knows, maybe you'll learn a whole new
Now, if I just had a couple more Bungee
cords on hand...