Friday, February 8, 2008

Research and the First Draft

I started writing a new middle grade mystery this week. There are few things in my life that match the excitement of opening a document and starting a brand new manuscript.

Many writers love research and say they must make themselves stop the research to start writing. I am the opposite. I must force myself to do enough research so that I don’t leave glaring errors needing a major rewrite. This happened in my last mystery. I was so ready to start the new manuscript, that I relied on my memory of historical facts to write Clue #1 for the story. Lesson learned: Always check your facts, especially when Clues 2, 3, etc. are tied to Clue #1 in the story.

Where I went wrong: I could not remember which order the buildings were constructed that surround Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans, one of my favorite neighborhoods. Just in case any blog readers might find this information helpful, here are the facts:

In 1788, a great fire broke out in the French Quarter on Good Friday, destroying eighty percent of the city’s buildings, including St. Louis Church. The building that would become known as St. Louis Cathedral was rebuilt on the same spot.

In 1849 and 1850, the Pontalba buildings that border Jackson Square (believed to be the first apartment buildings in the United States) were built. They did not exist in 1788 and could not have been damaged by the great fire.

This is the type of thing research can help with! What about you? Are you a research junkie or does the keyboard sing a siren song to you?


Shauna Roberts said...

I have to research as I go, and if I hit a spot where I don't know the answer, I have to find it out before I go on. Sometimes it's important to later elements in the story that you get the first thing right (as you found out with the Pontalbas).

I don't stop with my own stuff. If a critique partner has people eating kiwis in 1855 in her book, I don't write "check first date of importation" in the margin; I spend half an hour researching kiwis.

For stuff I need to know on a regular basis (horse sounds and what they mean, names of parts of horses, different types of swords, names of parts of swords, animals native to a particular area, types of lenses and their names, etc.), I print out Web pages and keep them in thick binders.

Rae Ann Parker said...

Shauna, I have heard that you are a fantastic critique partner. Now I know why!

Printing things out for future reference is a great idea. I keep a folder on French Quarter info and a few other things, also bookmarking webpages is helpful.

Shauna Roberts said...

I've tried bookmarking Web pages, but I bookmark so many that I can never find what I want. (It doesn't help that so many people label the first page of their Web site "home page.") Or the page disappears. I feel more comfortable with paper.