Research Changes Everything

June 29, 2011

On Wednesdays, I'll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

I’m in New York City right now at the 2011 Romance Writer’s of America National Conference. Woo-hooo!! Over the next few days I’ll attend numerous workshops, learn a lot about the new ways we’re creating and selling books (i.e., digital solutions), meet new people, and hug old friends.

While I’m here, I decided to add a few extra days to my stay to do some research for my current book, which is set in New York. There are sooo many things that have changed my perception of this city – which, it must be said, I got primarily from TV shows and movies.

1. New Yorkers are not the rude, fast-paced, get-out-of-my-way people they are portrayed as being. Yes, the traffic is crazy, there is a lot of honking (near Times Square, at least), and pedestrians are either foolish or fearless (maybe both). But one-on-one, outside of the crowd mentality, they are friendly and helpful. I’ve met some really wonderful locals, and I’ve had some of the best retail customer service I’ve had in years.

2. Harlem is not the gangster-infested, poor and downtrodden neighborhood it’s said to be. Sure, there are probably lots of gang members and crushing poverty in areas other than where I went. (There is in every city I’ve lived in.) But I’ve never seen on TV the part of Harlem I visited. It’s beautiful and historic and much of it is expensive and high end or upper middle class.

3. The sunset cruise around the Statue of Liberty is even more beautiful than you can imagine.

I know none of us rely solely on movies and TV shows for research. But it colors what we put on the page if we don’t find a tactile, emotional way to connect ourselves to what we don’t really know much about. If we’re not well-connected, it will be all but impossible for us to write in such a way that our readers are connected. I was blessed with an opportunity to visit the city I was writing about, and now my book will be significantly richer for the experience.

What can you do to emotionally connect to your subject matter? (Example: If you write historical fiction, is there a costume shop where you can try on clothing similar to your character’s mode of dress?)

P.S. I won’t have Internet access from now until I get home middle of next week. I’d hoped to post more about the conference as it happened, but I’ll tell you about it after I get home. Forgive me if my post is a day late, but I’ll be traveling until just a few hours before my post is due.  🙂  Happy Writing!

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