Friday, April 19, 2019

How to Get the Most Out of Your Writing Research Trip

The internet often falls short of the best research you can get. You have to really check for reliable sources and you don't get a lot of the details that your own experience can glean. That's why if it's possible, go on a writing research trip! I count Iceland as my first official writing research trip. Canada has been a huge part of my inspiration and research, but unlike in Canada, I didn't have a friend whom I could ask random questions about her country any time I pleased. This time I had to give a little bit more effort to gaining information that was pertinent to my stories.

1.) Visit Museums - Pretty much the first thing I did when I went to Iceland was to go to a museum. My sister and I went to the Perlan which had a wealth of information about Iceland's nature and geography. Besides the information you can read, museums allow a lot of hands-on experiences such as seeing fossils, live creatures, and stones in person so you can see all of the little details. This one even had man-made glacier tunnels so I could experience what it's like to walk in a cave of ice! 

There are so many small things I discovered that I couldn't find easily on the web such as specific plants and fungi that Iceland has. When you're in a building devoted to a subject there are so many things you discover that you didn't even think of!

This stuff is called Troll's Butter. Basically Shrek food. XD

Salmon fry.
2.) Take Tours - Walking through a city or hiking through a national park can gain you a ton of information alone, but doing tours gives you an extra boost of info. I took two tours during my trip and I learned so many things I wouldn't have known to look for about Iceland, such as how they have legends similar to Scotland's, the farmers would learn how to walk specifically among the hillocks, or that Vikings use to measure age by the winters they survived or you can even get amazing one-liners such as "When a language is lost, a people lose their identity." (Dat's mine you can't have it! XD)

You can also ask the tour guides specific questions about things such as what certain plants are. When I took a tour in Canada, I asked the guide what the bright red plant was growing in the wilderness and found out about the amazingly cool plant called "flame willow" which create such an amazing aesthetic. Guides are there for you to talk to and ask questions and they're full of great information. Don't hesitate to talk to them! (As long as you do it at a time when it doesn't hold up the schedule. That's a no-no.)

It's the red stuff.
3.) Talk to Locals - Now if you just walk to some random stranger and blab their ear off about random questions, that's weird, but if you have the appropriate opportunity definitely ask a local about their city or country. If you're doing an event such as a tour or in my case a retreat together then striking up a conversation is totally fine. Because my extroverted sister (Bless you, Sister Number-One) asked one of our fellow retreat-goers about why he didn't wear his wedding ring on his left hand we found out that marriage isn't really a thing in Iceland. Icelanders will live together as partners even for a lifetime and maybe have a small court wedding if they do want to bind themselves in matrimony, but marriage isn't made a huge deal over like it is in other cultures. I wouldn't have even thought to research that.

4.) Take Pictures and Videos - Film and photograph anything that's relevant to your research! In Iceland, I took lots of pictures of flora, fauna, and signs so I would remember the places I went to and any pertinent information listed. I also did a lot of filming like of the church bells of Hallgrimskirjur, the bubbling hot spring, and the water trickling over the sand on the beach. Not everything has to be Instagram-worthy. Just record so you can remember!

5.) Take moments to really Touch, Taste, and Smell - Pictures you can look at. Videos you can look at and listen to, but you can't preserve the other three senses in the same way, so take moments to really feel the environment. In Iceland, the air would smell faintly like fish in the city, the lava rock was smooth from the sea polishing it over and over again, the seawater was cold but the thermal pool was warm like bathwater, the water tasted purer than any other I'd drunk. 

The steam from Deildartunguhver smelled like freshly scrambled eggs from the sulfur. Walking on Videy Island the grassy ground was spongy under my feet and the pebbly shore like walking on a ball pool. The wind was so strong and cold on the first day I arrived at times I couldn't hear or feel my ears. The kelp on the rocks was slimy with pockets of air so strong that I couldn't pop them no matter how hard I squeezed and the tan sand was gritty between my fingers. The Icelandic salt burst with flavor in my mouth, with a stronger purer taste than any other I'd tried.

You get the idea.

6.) Take Notes - You can't take pictures of everything so keep a notebook handy or your notes app on your phone ready. Anything you find useful jot down. Phrases, tidbits of information, things you observed in particular. You may not use everything in your book, but having those details at your disposal are indispensable. Some of the things I wrote down were:

  • Orange “bark” meaning peel (a tour guide couldn't remember the English word for peel)
  • Hillocks made by frost and thaw humps on the land 
  • Heating houses and water with thermal energy and water
  • Steel beams supporting stone houses to keep them from falling in earthquakes  

Conclusion - When someone does their due research I can tell. In books like A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, Germ by Robert Liparulo, and City of Bones by Marissa Meyer, they include small details that you can't just google. They really got hands-on in their research and immersed themselves in the settings. Now there are many instances where you can't research what's in your books--and often you don't want to, but if possible even if it's an ax-throwing lesson (which I'm doing for Red Hood), a two-hour drive to a museum dedicated to dinosaurs for your new prehistoric novel, or interview who you know has been to the country you're basing your book on find ways to acquire those details. It makes a difference.

What things have you done for book research? Have you traveled somewhere for research? If you could travel anywhere in the world to research your story where would you go? Anything else to add? Talk to me!

You may also like:
Why a Writer Should Travel: Quell Your Fears and Embrace Inspiration
Why Reading Regularly is Essential to Being a Good Writer
10 Realities of Being an Artist
5 Ways Classic PC Adventure Games Trained Me to Be a Writer
From Lemons to Book Experiences

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