Posts Tagged ‘research’

Working with the Real World

So! October has not been going the way I’d like it to, in terms of writing, mostly meaning that the Changeling story continues to limp on and not get finished.

But, since the end of the month is a little over a week away, I have to accept that it’s not going to get done, and that I really need to get on planning my cozy mystery for Nano, or that’s not going to get done either.

So, alas, here we are.

I love mysteries, and I like cozy mysteries, though I do admit that the “theme” really makes or breaks them for me. My favorite series is the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews, of which I have read all 20-odd books (there’s a new one coming out for Christmas), which I suspect I like because the theme is mostly bird-pun titles (brilliant) instead of book content, and because they have a wonderful selection of weird relatives.

I’ve avoided writing one before because the whole concept of writing one is terrifying, but the thought of writing a novel with no speculative elements is ALSO terrifying, so, uh, I’m not going to. Luckily paranormal cozies are a thing.

Now, even so, I can’t really set a mystery in a secondary world of my own creation. Well, I mean, I can, but it’ll get categorized as fantasy and not mystery and long story short (too late), that means I have to use the real world as a backdrop.

Cozies usually take place in made up towns located in general real places. I intend to follow suit. I’m thinking small mountain town, probably here in Colorado. And I’ll do a better job than a certain cozy author I shall not name who I’m pretty sure has never stepped foot in Colorado in her life. But! I will have to make it up. Something to do over the weekend, I think. Make maps. Maybe I’ll share them next week. Maybe I’ll horde them. Who knows!

Anyway, real world. I’ve decided my main character owns a New Age shop. She’s a witch (kind of a mash-up of real world and fairy tale sorts of witches) so it helps her to hide in plain sight. Now, I haven’t been in a New Age shop (are they even called that anymore?) in a while, aside from booths at festivals and cons, so I went out this morning for research purposes.

I found three shops within a ten-mile radius and laid out a circle route to hit all of them.

Now, a good author who understands people would tell the clerk that she was researching for a book, and would the clerk mind answering a few questions about what it was like to run the store, and how busy they were, and what sort of people came in.

I, however, arrived at the first store, and when the very helpful clerk asked me what I was looking for or needed a solution to, I said, “I’m not sure,” and meandered about the store for ten minutes, looking at the offerings.

(I ended up with a book about Christmas magic and a stone bracelet made of sodalite, which is apparently good for creativity and focus.)

(With how the Changeling story has been going, I need all the help I can get.)

It’s probably a combination of being an introvert and not having had to talk to anybody new in approximately seven months, but despite the clerk being very nice and very helpful, the whole experience was overwhelming.

Next I drove to the second store, sat outside, decided I was done for the day, and went home.

So, uh, limited success.

I don’t know how people do that! How do you go up to someone and ask for their insights into their work? I know, probably, that most people like to talk about themselves, but it just feels like a huge imposition.

Eh, I’ll figure it out.

How’s your week going, squider?

And What About Cozy Mysteries?

Hey-o, squiders. Sorry for missing Tuesday’s post. I have no excuse except, uh…oh. Oh yeah. I had volunteer commitments. Okay, that’s a pretty good excuse.

So, as I move toward trying my hand at my first cozy mystery during November, I’ve been reading how to write mystery books for fun and profit. I read two, specifically, helpfully titled How to Write Mysteries and How to Write a Mystery respectfully, and am now done with both.

They were middling helpful, especially when talking about plot. A lot of the books were on more universal stuff, like creating characters or writing dialogue, which was less useful. And both contained extremely outdated information on agents and publishing. Good times.

But neither of them really touched on cozies as a subgenre. They both mentioned them, but were obviously confused by the concept. The second book author noted that he only included them because people had asked why he wasn’t. Both dismissed them as “an English sort of mystery” and didn’t have a lot to say.

Which was, of course, not useful for me, planning a cozy mystery. But I also found it interesting. These are older books–the first is from 1989 and the second is from 1995–but cozies are not a new phenomena. Off the top of my head, the Cat Who books by Lilian Jackson Braun are very definitely cozies–and the inspiration for all following cozy series that include animal sidekicks–and the first of those was published in the mid-60s.

(And the Cat Who books also take place in America, and in Chicago for the first few, if I recall correctly. What does an “English sort” of mystery mean? Maybe they’re thinking of Miss Marple, which is probably also a cozy series.)

Now, if I had the time and inclination, perhaps I could pick up a much more modern book on writing mysteries, and I would probably find a larger section on cozies. There seems to be several dozen series going at any point in time, with new ones starting all the time. I was a bit concerned, when I first started thinking about my paranormal cozy series, because I couldn’t find any others, but now I know of at least three other paranormal series, so all is well.

But at this point I’m also running out of learning time and need to get on to the doing phase of things. (Though I may cruise around the Internet and see if there’s any good blog posts or YouTube videos on the subject.) So now I’m on phase 2, which is market research, as I’m calling it.

Market research consists of reading cozies from the last few years and analyzing things like setting, structure, characters, and plot. I’ve got two out from the library. The one I’m currently reading came out in September, and is called Murder Goes to Market. So far I’m enjoying it!

(It’s third person, which is interesting. Most cozies are first person.)

(Also, reading cozies is definitely more fun than reading probably too old books about writing mysteries.)

Still weird, though, how those older books just brushed the subgenre off. There are probably numbers, somewhere, of what subgenres sell the most and how much money they’re making. They do it for books in general, right, so someone probably tracks by genre and specifics. I would think cozies have to be a sizeable chunk of the market, given how many are published (and how quickly you can read one).

Ah well. Onward!

(Favorite cozies, squiders?)

Vaguely Fae

As a part of the writing/career class I’m taking, the teacher advocated against doing a ton of research/worldbuilding, instead focusing on what’s interesting and what’s important.

On one hand, yes, this can be a horrible, slippery slope, where one disappears into their work and never gets to the actual writing.

But on the other, it feels a bit weird, and, to some extent, a bit disingenuous.

This teacher is a self-acknowledged over-worldbuilder, so I understand why she’s teaching this way, but especially with stories involving mythology, I like to delve into the mythology itself, so I can see what aspects best fit the story, and use it to shape the story itself.

I’m just saying, Shards would be a completely different story if I just said “I’m going to write a book about angels” and went off without doing any more research than what I knew off the top of my head.

But in the interest of trying new things, I’m holding off. So far. I’m strongly considering doing more research (and yes, worldbuilding) because I feel weirdly adrift at the moment and it’s making writing harder than it needs to be.

The story I’m working on for the class involves changelings, and so, by extension, the fae. I’d like to stick to your old world trickster sort of faerie, and a lot of the book will take place in the Otherworld.

Working from memory, I’ve got:

  • allergic to iron or whatever (iron burns)
  • Time works all weird in the Otherworld
  • Fae are good at illusions
  • Never offer to pay a faerie for anything
  • There’s two courts: seelie (summer)/unseelie (winter)
  • Veil between worlds that’s only passable at certain times/places

(I even have the perfect book to use for research. It’s Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages by Claude Lecouteux. I got it out from the library while I was doing my Shards research and liked it so much that I got myself a copy.)

Now, it’s entirely possible that I’ve misunderstood, and that it’s really worldbuilding to be avoiding (beyond identifying what’s interesting and causes conflict) and research is fine. (I mean, what if you were doing historical fiction?) I should probably double check that. Ask in the forums, maybe?

Any good fae mythology to share, squiders? (Especially related to the Otherworld itself.) Or good sources for research, if I give in to my itch?

Patreon Research

Well, squiders, I wrote most of a blog post yesterday, and it just wasn’t gelling. The longer it went on, the less sense I felt it was making. And then I got distracted by things and I never posted it, and, believe me, that is for the best.

Yes, yes, it is.

Anyway, what I got distracted by is actually a better post topic, so let’s do that instead.

I’ve had a Patreon for…oh, who knows. Two years, maybe? Three? It is something I set up and then have never quite figured out how to work with it, so mostly I stare at it out of the corner of my eye in the hopes that I will magically figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with it.

And every now and then I poke at it, tweaking things here and there, which doesn’t especially help but feels somewhat productive.

Patreon helpfully sends out a newsletter with tips on attracting patrons and growing your audience and tools to use and whatnot, though they seemed to be mostly geared toward people who work in podcasts, music, or video (probably because these seem to be the most success categories on the site). They recently sent out an email about a section of their app that allows creators to easily take video of their process which got me thinking about my poor, mostly abandoned Patreon again.

(Also I checked out the app, but apparently they recently changed it and everyone hates everything about it, so I’m going to leave that alone for now.)

So I spent some time yesterday looking specifically at other SFF writers on Patreon who seem to be doing decently, to see what they’re doing.

These people fell into two categories:

  1. Larger name authors who are probably leveraging an existing fanbase (including award-winning authors like Kameron Hurley and self-pub gold standard Lindsay Buroker). I kind of looked at these but I figure that what’s working for them is probably out of my reach at this moment.
  2. Authors I hadn’t heard of

So I poked through category 2. And here are the trends I noticed:

  • Most people had “per item” payment tiers rather than monthly tiers. So every time they finished a short story or a chapter or whatever, their patrons would be charged.
  • The people with the most patrons were extremely productive. One was writing 50-60K words a month on a regular basis, and most of the other ones were putting out at least 2-3 novels a year.
  • A lot of Patreons (especially ones with monthly tiers) were focused on a certain project, like a series of novels or shorts related to a series. Very few were “support me on everything I write.”

I have a video intro because that was highly recommended when I set up the account–not a single one of the others I looked at yesterday had one. I guess that makes sense. If you’re working in visual media like most people on the site, why wouldn’t you do a video? But for a writer, where the story is going to be most important, hooray, it looks like one isn’t necessary. Which is fantastic, because I’m going to take my down. When I get around to it.

So, I’m wondering, if I want a specific project Patreon where I can generate a lot of content and potentially build on something that already has fans, maybe I should modify mine to be specifically about theĀ City of Hope and RuinĀ sequel. The book has had decent buzz and Siri and I have had people asking about a sequel since immediately after it came out. Or maybe I can make a separate page that both Siri and I can have access to? Not sure about that–it might be one page per account (in which case maybe Siri wants to make one?).

I’ll have to ask her about it.

Does anyone have any experience with Patreon, as a creator or as a patron? What has worked for you, or what do the creators that you follow do that you like?

Where to Find Story Ideas: Research

Good afternoon, squiders. Today, in our search for inspiration, we’re going to talk about research.

This is exactly what it sounds like–you need to know something (or know more about something) for a story, and so you research it. This can happen at any stage of the process, from when you’re still in the outlining/planning/expanding premise phase to writing the draft to revision.

Personally, I like research at the very beginning, when you’re still considering what sort of story you’re going to write.

If you do your research before you get going, not only do you allow yourself the opportunity to make sure you understand the world you’re creating, so that it feels alive and real from the first page, but you may find some neat things that you can tie into your characterization or your plot. Some research may be integral to the very essence of your story, and if you don’t look first, you’ll miss it.

This varies from story to story. Sometimes you come into a story with a good idea of the story you want to tell, and you only need details to make sure you’re not going to sound like an idiot. Sometimes you have a vague idea, something like “I’d like to write about death spirits” or “alternatives to werewolves in modern day” or “would it be possible to hide an advanced civilization in Central Park.”

Your research can directly shape your story with the latter type. With my novel Shards, for example, I went into my research with “immortals that aren’t vampires” and the research that followed gave me my characters, their personalities, my plot, and a lot of important mythology that’s woven throughout.

With another story that I’ve yet to write, my research has given me two distinct paths to take: death magic or dark magic, both of which are awesome. As I flesh out the story more, I’ll be able to decide which set of research will be more beneficial for the story I want to tell.

Now, you can use research for other story aspects as well. If your story is set in a real place, you’d better be sure you have the details right for it. I have some authors I refuse to read because they can’t take the time to pick up the map and make sure they’ve stuck things in the right place, and there’s nothing more distracting than reading a book where every time something setting-related comes up it throws you out of the story.

(Also: check weather patterns and so forth so you’re not making it rain constantly in a desert environment, etc.)

Same thing for dealing with real cultures, communities, etc. No matter how obscure you think something is, someone who knows about it probably will read your book, and if you get it wrong, they’ll be annoyed.

NOTE: Just because you’ve done your research on a place doesn’t mean you need to hammer that in. It can be off-putting to read things like “She continued down Park Boulevard and turned right on Harrison Avenue, passing Jefferson and Washington before arriving at the CVS at the corner of Harrison and 15th right next to the Bennigan’s.”

Research can be time consuming, and you do run the risk of over-researching, where it’s taking up all of your creative time and you end up with more material than you need or could ever possibly use. (This can be okay if said research can be applied to multiple stories.) It can be helpful to periodically look at the information you’ve acquired to see if you have what you need or to see if you need to focus on a specific subject to round things out.

It also helps to organize your research so you get something useful out of it.

WARNING: Research is like a spice when it comes to actual story drafting. You just need a pinch of it here or there to give your story added depth and realism (even in a fantasy or science fiction world). Just because you know all the polite rules of etiquette for a particular time period doesn’t mean your readers want to read that. Authors can sometimes get caught up in a subject and want to show off their knowledge of it, but this is almost always detrimental to the story you’re trying to tell. Remember: just a pinch, just enough for some subtle seasoning.

As for where to do your research, libraries can be your best friends. They have nonfiction material on any subject you could ever want, usually in multiple formats (for example, I find videos helpful when doing place research because it gives you a sense of the life of the place) for whatever suits your fancy. The Internet is another good place to look, especially if you’re looking mostly for inspiration and are less concerned with how accurate the information is. Interviews with people are also a great source, for when you have a character that has a career you know nothing about or has life experience outside of your own. There are also specific writing resources to help you present things accurately, and most writing forums have a place where you can ask questions and get answers from people who know better than you on a subject.

For organizing, I find it helps to have a specific document for each story. General research that can be useful in the future can go into your idea file, but if you’re doing research for a particular story, having it all in one place rather than mixed in with your other ideas and research makes a huge difference. I usually make a big long list of useful tidbits and then periodically free write some connections between the information to get an idea of how the information can be used.

What do you think, squiders? Anything to add? Favorite place to do research? Best example of how research has helped you with a story?

Using Your Phone as a Notebook

First of all, though, I’ve been remiss on telling you guys about stuff.

  • I have a new free short story, called Band of Turquoise, up at Turtleduck Press. Go read it! (It’s nice and short.)
  • SF Signal featured Band of Turquoise in its round up of free stories, which is pretty dang cool.
  • And I totally spaced on telling you guys, but me and the entire Turtleduck Press gang were interviewed by Full Coverage Writers on their videocast last night. You can find that video here. (There are squid. Just saying.)
  • On a similar note, we’ll be on FCWriter’s videocast again next week. I’ll hopefully remember to remind you guys about that in a timely fashion.

Now, on to the show.

A common writing tip is to carry a notebook with you at all times. A little one, pocket-sized or so, and a pen or similar writing utensil. That way, when you have an idea, whether it’s a new story, an idea to help you break writer’s block, or just something that may prove useful later, you can whip out your notebook, jot it down, and save it for later use.

In practice, I find this problematic. I don’t carry a purse, and women’s pockets are tiny and mostly decorative, which makes notebook/pen combos difficult to stow. Also, tiny notebooks tend to wander off when you most need them, so the result is that I have half a dozen tiny notebooks, two of which I can find at any given time and none of which have more than a few pages used.

I’ve found it’s much more useful to use my phone as a tiny notebook. I already have my phone with me most of the time, and there’s a tiny of apps you can put notes in, many of which are backed up elsewhere on the cloud so you can access them from your computer or from a new phone should something happen to the old one (unlike a tiny notebook of mine which suffered a traumatic and fatal incident with tea).

Here’s a sampling of apps that can be used for this purpose:

  • Google Drive
  • EverNote
  • Google Keep
  • OneNote

No doubt there are others, but these are the ones people I know use. Personally, I mainly use Google Keep. I find the Drive phone apps non-intuitive, and I haven’t managed to get my act together enough to check out the various Notes.

How about you, Squiders? Leave a comment about your note-taking method of choice and what, if any, justification you have for making said choice.

Writer Problems: Weird Searches

Sometimes, Squiders, I’m thankful I’m a fantasy author. Well, a lot of the time. But, in this case, I get to avoid some of the more macabre searches that mystery and other genre authors probably have to do.

Luckily, in this day and age, your search history is between you and the NSA, and you don’t have to, I don’t know, make friends with police officers or surgeons or undertakers to get information or whatever it was people did before the Internet existed.

But we still need information, and in order to make stories interesting, sometimes we need really strange and disturbing information that would make people think you were a serial killer if you brought it up in normal conversation.

I imagine mystery/thriller writers have it the worse, what with having to come up with new and inventive ways to kill people. But I’ve had to make some odd searches myself from time to time.

There was the time where I did a ridiculous amount of research on blood to see whether it was possible for an intelligent life form to have blood that was not oxygen-based, only to have one of my betas point out a fatal flaw in my evolutionary logic anyway.

There was the time I needed to figure out if being stabbed in a certain location would kill someone.

I’ve done a lot of research on stabby things in general.

Also with setting people on fire, and drowning…

Okay, I take back the earlier comment about it being better to be a fantasy writer.

Ever done any especially disturbing bits of research, Squiders, that it’s probably just better to never tell anyone?

Writer Problems: Too Much Research

So, my husband and I were chatting last night, and he repeated something someone had said about guardian angels.

Me> Did you know that the Muslims believe that you have two shifts of guardian angels? And people are most at risk at dawn and dusk during the changing of the guard, as it were.
Husband> …what does that have to do with this conversation?

Research. I’ve talked in the past about how it can enhance a story, even if you’ve got it set in the real world in modern times. And I think, to some extent, that writers really like research, because it seems like we tend to go overboard with it and end up with way more than any sane person would ever logically need.

Part of that may be because we’re not quite sure what we’re looking for (with Shards, which is of course why I know random guardian angel trivia, some of the stuff I researched directly impacted the entire plot and worldbuilding, but it was not stuff I was aware of beforehand), part of it may be that we want to be as informed as possible (because I’ve noticed when other authors get things wrong about things I know about in their books), and part of it may be that we just like learning, and if we’re writing a book on a related subject, it’s probably already something we’re interested in.

But, anyway, writers do more research than necessary, in most cases. And then you can’t actually put it in a book. You use your knowledge to create the right atmosphere, to make sure your characters are acting appropriately, maybe twist it into your plot, but most of that information just sits behind the scenes, necessary but not really there.

But you, as the author, knows it, and then it tends to come out at inopportune times, like dinner parties or to your extremely religious relatives that probably don’t want to know how the Bible was constructed or when, and how Moses probably did not write the books attributed to him because there’s four distinct writing styles AND the whole thing was probably written a good thousand years after Moses lived, and…

…you get the point.

Any research that tends to seep out into your normal lives, squiders? Do you have any embarrassing, random knowledge stories? If so, please share.

Working With Mythology When No One Agrees On Anything: Angel Mythology

How’s that for a mouthful of a title? I’m rather proud of it.

So, my book Shards, coming out in December, has a lot of mythology mixed into it. The main mythology is Biblical, specifically relating to angels, so I got to do a whole bunch of research before I started my initial draft.

Here’s the thing about mythology. It’s super interesting but nothing is set in stone. You can very rarely make any sort of absolutes, because someone out there has found some version of a myth where what you were thinking is absolutely true is not true. That’s even true if you look at Arthurian legend, which, in the great scheme of mythology, isn’t very old. Morgan le Fay is Arthur’s sister. No, she’s not. She’s a sorceress. She’s not. Etc., etc., et al.

Angel mythology is especially non-cohesive because of the many different types of people who believe in angels. Besides Christians, Jews, and Muslims, you have people who are not religious at all, people who think of them as some sort of nature spirits, even people who see them as some sort of cosmic energy manifest.

And even if you stick within a single belief system, the mythology varies between time periods and subgroups.

I think perhaps the most telling of how insane angel mythology can get is the Archangels vs archangels madness. You see, there’s a hierarchy of angels (well, several, depending on who you’re talking to, which really just proves my point), and one of the tiers is “archangel.” Yet the Archangels–Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, etc. (more on this in a moment)–don’t belong to the archangel choir. Generally, Michael and Gabriel are considered to be Seraphim, which is the highest angelic order. (There’s more leeway with Raphael, but he’s generally portrayed as at least a Throne.) It’s like somewhere along the way whomever was in charge of sticking angels in the hierarchy felt like the angels that actually dealt with humans needed to be bumped up a few notches.

And the Archangels themselves–there seems to be no agreement on how many there are, though it does seem to be split between four and seven. And there’s about 20 different angels that fit into that four/seven depending on who you ask, which names such as Chamuel, Zadkiel, Jophiel, Jeremiel, Salathiel, Phaltiel…you get the point.

And various angels, such as Sammael or Azrael, have positive or negative connotations based on who you talk to as well.

If you try to make everything agree with everything else, you’re going to have a major headache.

So, what do you do when your mythology is all over the place? You pick what works for the story at hand, and you run with it.

And then you save the rest for other stories later on.

What’s your favorite mythologies, Squiders? What discrepancies have you noticed within them?

Research Makes a Story Richer

Ah, research. I know it doesn’t necessarily sound fun (unless you’re one of those people, like me, who goes, “Oh, I don’t really know anything about evil spirits. Time to go to the library! Glee!”) but a little realism can go a long way.

Even if it’s something as simple as looking at a map to see where things are in relation to each other, research can be the difference between taking your reader on a fantastic read and distracting them to the point where they’re pulled out of the story.

To continue on with the post from a few weeks ago, I have a book I’m editing that partially takes place in Greece. I wrote that section based off random tidbits I’ve picked up from pop culture over the years. However, one of my beta readers had been to Greece, and the whole section distracted her because she could tell how wrong I was.

But it’s not just places that can benefit from research. Mythology, science, history, societal customs, languages–all of these can bring richness and fullness to your story. It’s one thing to have a Hispanic character, but another to look into common customs in Hispanic households. Looking into mythology can teach you little known facts about legends that provide the direction you need to bring your story together. And it’s one thing to write about a Victorian-esque society, but actually knowing something about the Victorians will help you sell it.

So, how do you go about researching? Well, I recommend choosing the media that appeals to you the most. I always hit the books first because that’s my preference. (Assuming the library has books on the particular subject.) Then I head to the internet. I try to stick to somewhat legitimate sources, such as Wikipedia. But if you find it hard to pick up facts from the written word, you can listen to podcasts or watch movies.

Take notes as you go, or you’ll never remember everything you want to.

Any researching tips you’d like to pass on, Squiders? Any books you’ve read recently where someone obviously didn’t bother?