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Posts from the ‘Research for novel writing’ Category

Researching To Write A Novel, by Phillipa Fioretti

Reading a book is like immersing yourself in another world. Researching and writing a book is as much if not more fun because you get to look closer at this imaginary world and those who inhabit it. From all this research I have a wealth of information about illegal fishing in the Mediterranean, Italy-to-Australia extradition procedures, organized crime and the construction of ghost hotels, corrupt Chinese art auctions, how best to give an audition performance, the market value of vintage couture, how to steal a mosaic, and much more.

There is a huge amount of information available for writers on the internet but sometimes you have to go to a real person and interview them if you want the inside view. I have a friend who is quite senior in the human resources department of a big multinational company. I asked him what would happen to an employee accused of planting porn on a colleague’s computer leading to that colleague’s dismissal. He said if it couldn’t be proven then nothing could be done officially, but that person would be passed over again and again in favour of others, shunned at the pub and become so isolated they would eventually leave. Hmm… that’s a tasty little nugget to store for possible future use. I have never worked in such an environment, so I don’t really know what goes on there and I need the nuances of real human interaction rather than the public face.

At a writing conference a few years ago I attended a session given by a senior police superintendent. The idea was that he would talk about police procedure for writers. He replied to a question about writers accessing information on procedure with the answer, ‘You don’t access it unless you get to know a police officer.’ At this point I felt a certain smugness, as I knew a police officer - a homicide detective, no less. His boy and mine played soccer. There is nothing like a windswept soccer field in the early morning to foster friendships.

He’s a hard looking dude. He makes you want to confess straight up or offer your DNA on spec. However, he was very kind in answering my pesky and endless questions about police procedure. In fact I’m surprised he didn’t put a block on my emails. I’m very aware of the irritation factor I could present, so I don’t harass too much. But I need to know.

Other soccer friendships include a chemistry forensics professor, an international law specialist and an academic nuclear physicist. I have doctors, lawyers, scientists of various types, artists, actors, singers, teachers and more on my private sources list. Invariably, these experts shred my imagined scenes or plots with precision and leave them lying in a heap, and I have to keep re-working and re-thinking.

For example, I wanted a character to be in a long coma but be revived unharmed, and I wanted to put him in that coma with opium. No can do, comes the advice. You can have your coma but not without brain damage and the opium won’t be detected as opium, but as morphine. A spanner in the crucial spoke of the plot. Fiction provides room for creative license but not to completely contradict reality. Besides, factual errors rarely escape the All-Seeing Editing Eye.

The big test will come when I want to research a character or scene and I don’t know anyone in the field. I like to think that with the right approach people are happy to share the facts about their occupations. I have favourite café near the law courts where barristers come to drink the excellent coffee. Some of them sweep in, briefs under the arm, hair swept back, as if the café is their courtroom and we are the awestruck jurors. They order and talk loudly and are generally very pleased with themselves. I sit like a small, alert parasite in the corner jotting down every move, every gesture. But would I approach one? Yes, I think I would if I needed to. Because I know these guys would just love it.

Always be polite when asking to delve into somebody’s professional life, and take a refusal graciously. Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you can access all areas. Assure them they will not be identified as a source unless they want to be and if that’s the case then full acknowledgement will be given. I like to interview then go away and think about their answers and return, if possible, for specific details. Flowers, wine, chocolate, jam, books or a combination of two or three are always good gift to have about your person when interviewing sources. And when it’s all over, a signed copy of the book as a token of appreciation.

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Phillipa Fioretti’s author website: www.phillipafioretti.com.au

Phillipa Fioretti’s bio page

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The Book of LoveThe Fragment of Dreams     Half Moon BayHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Fortunes of Ruby WhiteRotten GodsA Distant Land

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

How Important Is Research When Writing Fiction? by Kathy Stewart

As I was writing my crime novel manuscript, Clear Island Murder, I was faced with some problems I hadn’t anticipated: I simply didn’t know enough about some aspects of my subject.

I’d purposely set it on the Gold Coast because I know the place. I’d also given my main protagonist a South African background, because I know that place and its people as well. But as my story progressed I realised there were many aspects about which I was unsure, from how the police service works to what type of gun would be used, and which would be common to both countries.

I also needed to know exactly where each of my characters lived and make the timing of their trips from A to B credible. I needed to know what their houses were like, what professions they were in, what sights, smells and sounds they would encounter at each location. But these are fairly standard complications that most fiction writers face, so I was prepared for them.

Then I hit some real hurdles. How exactly do you abseil down a vertical cliff? And, more importantly, how do you get back up to the top again? I’ve never been one for heights, much like Scott in my story, and the prospect of doing real research such as actually abseiling down a vertical cliff made my knees tremble and my palms sweat. No. I couldn’t do that. Then Steve Rossiter gave me some really good advice: “Look on YouTube. You’re bound to find a number of videos there that will show how to abseil and what equipment is used.”

My pulse slowed. He was right. YouTube proved to be a font of information.

But then I had the climactic scene taking place on the top of Q1, a building which stands 322 metres high, is 78 storeys and is the 19th tallest building in the world, while also being the tallest residential building in the world – and it just happens to be on the Gold Coast. (Guess who has done her research?)

The problem was, I had never been there. And I knew that this was one aspect of my research that I would have to do in person.

So up the tower we went and peered out over the vista of the Gold Coast as the sun set over the hinterland and the lights of the city began to blink on. It turned out to be a magical evening, sitting in our glass eyrie and watching the antlike cars crawl the roads in ribbons of white and red light, while we dined in style at the restaurant.

And this was all in the name of research.

But the fact is that I did find out what I needed to know and my story will be the stronger for it. In fact, it was essential. I simply could not have written a realistic scene without having done the research.

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Kathy Stewart’s bio page

Cold JusticeStorm PreyHeart of IceForget Me NotBurnedTime of DeathDeath of the Mantis

Writing My Crime Novel: Inspiration and Research, by Emma Tucker

I am now a few chapters into my novel – granted, a little behind schedule – but things are travelling well. I’m writing in the crime and horror genre and have zero personal experience in criminal investigations. So that presents me with the dilemma of not knowing what the hell I’m talking about. I’m not Kathy Reichs with a lifetime of forensic anthropology experience behind me (May I note that Kathy is an outstanding writer and if you have any interest in crime fiction whatsoever you must read her work).

So, what’s the solution? One option is to research criminal investigating, profiling and police work through speaking to sources or reading about it on the internet– which I have done a little of – or another option is to watch a lot of crime shows.

I chose the latter as I’d rather watch television than pore over endless forensic criminal documents – and let’s be honest – I’m going to watch TV anyway.

I know, I know. Television shows aren’t always the most accurate sources of information. So if you are in the business of solving crimes, I strongly discourage watching TV for the answers. I, however, am writing fiction, so I think it will serve that purpose quite nicely.

One particular show that I have relied on heavily for criminal profiling information is Criminal Minds. The characters in this show are part of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (known in real life – and in my book – as the Behavioral Science Unit). Each episode they are presented with a new case and are charged with capturing a serial killer on the loose! They use psychological profiling to figure out the killer’s motives and future plans and, ostensibly track down the culprit and arrest him. Hooray!

What’s interesting about Criminal Minds, though, is that it doesn’t always feel like “Hooray!” at the end of each episode. Sometimes it’s a cut and dry win, but other times they present an ambiguity to their villain which I find intriguing. Oftentimes, the villain would have suffered tremendous abuse which led them to their sadistic actions. Other times, the killer is afflicted with a mental illness where they are compelled to behave a certain way or sometimes – perhaps the most cruelly – they aren’t even aware of what they have done.

It’s very easy to segregate people into “good” and “bad” – but in reality this doesn’t hold true. People are shaped and molded by their personal experiences, their brain chemistries, genetics and environments and are complex, confusing creatures. I think it’s important to take this into account when writing – I hope to create characters with depth and a sense of authenticity and, in order to do so, one must consider carefully the different layers that make up a person.

Another show that I really enjoy is Bones – incidentally produced by Kathy Reichs (can she do no wrong?) – And an aspect of that show that has helped me in my writing is the relationships. The key relationship between Temperance (a forensic anthropologist) and Booth (an FBI agent) and the different roles they play in the investigation helps make it clear what belongs in what jurisdiction. I am looking forward to crafting the relationship between my two primary characters and finding out how each of their strengths and experiences play into solving the crime.

At least now I have an excuse when I’m being a couch potato – it’s strictly for research purposes, people!

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Emma Tucker bio page

Deadly DecisionsSpider BonesCriminal Minds: Season 1 Criminal Minds: Season 6Bones: The Complete Season 1 Bones: Season 6 Writing Crime Fiction (Writing Handbooks)

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