The first thing I do when writing a new story is to create a favorites folder in my web browser. This is one of the main places I store things for future reference.
Other than what I already know from life (68 years of it), I do all of my research on the Internet, or using a variety of programs/apps. I normally use Wikipedia as a starting point, then branch out, searching the web for additional references. I tend to use only commonly available information, so there is no need to do any extensive crediting of sources. More on this later.
When I find a website that I find interesting, I either bookmark it in the browser favorites folder I created, or use Pocket to store it. If you haven’t used Pocket, it is both an app and a favorite in your browser toolbar. All you have to do is click on Pocket in your toolbar, and it will be stored in the Pocket app, but striped of all the ‘junk’ surrounding that webpage, i.e., ads. Then go back to the Pocket app on your device to look at it. From there, you can copy and paste, export in various formats, etc. You can click on any links embedded in the Pocket copy to return to the Internet for further research.
If I only want to grab a snippet from a website, I copy it and paste it into an Evernote work file. Both Pocket and Evernote, which are free, run on multiple platforms – in my case, my Windows laptop and iPad. Anything I do on one device gets automatically synced over my WiFi to the other. I find storing all of my research in my browser, Pocket or Evernote much easier that making notes. Hey, even I can’t read my own handwriting.
At some point during the writing process, I go through what I have tucked away and pull my thoughts together into Evernote files, adding my own personal twist to everything. This way, all my research is available to me when I am sitting at my laptop to write, or relaxing in a recliner at night with my iPad watching boring TV. And if I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, my iPad is on the nightstand to jot down notes or make edits that will also show up on my laptop. Neat!
That covers basic informational research, but what about the look and feel of a place? I use the Internet, Google Earth, Google Maps and YouTube to ‘see’ the world from the comfort of my desk.
For instance, in Mountain Rose, the science fiction crime novel I coauthored with my friend, Tim Farnum, we wanted to set part of the action in a plaza in Havana, Cuba. But we’ve never been there. So, we used Google Earth and Maps to scour Old Havana in Cuba for plazas, and settled on Plaza Vieja. Then we scanned the web for “Plaza Vieja Havana Cuba photo”. Bingo! Up came loads of photographs of the plaza. We stored them in Pocket as well as creating a Mountain Rose favorites menu in our browser to store them. Then we tried YouTube and came across a wealth of videos of the plaza, which we also stored in our favorites menu. Finally, after absorbing what the area looked like, we sat down and wrote the chapter filled with description of what the plaza was like, which streets you walk down or cross to get there, what our characters were doing there and how they felt about the beautiful plaza and the people they would meet. We invented a cigar store, a flower shop, an outdoor restaurant and a bank which we placed on some of the streets. It brought that chapter to life.
Then there is the problematic issue of generating names for your characters. Let me use the example of Robert E. Lee’s assistant on the Argo I space colony in Mountain Rose. We knew we wanted him to be of Polish ancestry. Back to the Internet and search for “Polish surname” and then “Polish male name”. We discovered websites that not only gave us a list of names, but also their meanings. Since Lee and his assistant are both into wrestling and boxing, we came up with Andrzej Stoklosa, Drugi for short. Why that choice? When asked, Drugi tells Lee that his name means strong, manly, brave – a warrior. Lee tosses him a pair of boxing gloves and comments, “Shall we put that concept to the test – warrior to warrior?” As you can imagine, Drugi didn’t hesitate to slip on the gloves. It added a spark of interest to the story.
By the way, do you remember I mentioned I write my stories using Scrivener rather than Word these days? Scrivener helps in naming your characters: Tools – Writing Tools – Name Generator. That’s my first choice to name characters these days. It’s fantastic!
Language. Do you have a character who speaks a different language? Want to slip some of his native dialect into your story? Just go search the Internet for a free on-line foreign dictionary. In my short story, Dreamcatcher, I found one for the Ojibwe language and interspersed words from their fascinating language throughout the novella. Again, it added some flair. Be sure to create a glossary at the end of the book for your readers.
Well, that about covers how I go about doing my research. Now as to documentation for sources. In the acknowledgments section of Mountain Rose, we referenced The World Wide Web, Wikipedia, Google Maps, YouTube and NASA. In the case of The Treasure of Li Quan and Dreamcatcher from my Legends Series, I included links to several of my sources at the end. I thought readers might want to explore some of the topics I covered in more depth.
The next section will cover the outline for Encounter at Fox Creek. I almost have it completed with a few sections already fleshed out. Either follow this blog (the FOLLOW button under the right side of the graphic header here), or check my Twitter account, @boblenx, to keep informed of new sections to this writing process.
I almost forgot to mention what I had to research for this short story: the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition, John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company, the flora and fauna of Saddle Mountain in Oregon and one other thing. Now what was it? Hmmm. Oh yeah, BIGFOOT !
Click http://lenxbob.wordpress.com/foxcreek to see the entire discussion from the beginning.