Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Research: Evoking Pain or Passion?

Research – it’s a loaded word that brings to mind different things for different writers. Does it evoke a pain or passion for you? Both perhaps? 
You are not alone.
For some, research is taking the plunge to sort through a ceiling-high stack of books or spending hours on the Internet scrolling endless web pages – or it could be getting some dirt under your nails and traveling to the destination.
For my upcoming research trip to the U.K., I really felt the need for a game plan. I am quick to become overwhelmed with the splendor and sheer excitement of travel to be distracted from my goal – inhaling a place and etching it into the lanes of my mind and heart.
I realize that is a lofty goal, so I thought and thought some more and something struck me. I should treat this trip as if I am writing a travel article about it and not a book – which brought me to my own advice via a column I wrote about travel writing. 
Take a look below and even if that dirt under your nails has to come from YouTube videos, firsthand accounts in books or phone conversations I believe this info can apply.
I'll be seeing this soon!
So choose your destination and let’s travel write. Err, I mean “research.”  

Passport in hand or mouse at our fingertips…here we go.
On the occasion that I’ve been on a trip and have written about it in the newspaper, countless people have complimented me on these articles and said they felt as if I’d taken them along on the journey.
After profusely thanking them, I started thinking about why they felt this way. I mean…I know I’m a decent writer, even a good writer, but honestly to pen something that evokes such a connection must be great writing.
The more I thought about it, the more I narrowed it down to two things—the first being voice.
For writers in nearly any situation, voice is what sets us apart and helps to create this connection between the words and the reader. 
Writing a travel piece all begins with the place and the experience you had there. You might write an overview of a whole country or focus on a specific city. Take your pick. Though for the purpose of learning, it may be easier to choose a particular restaurant, museum, event, etc.
Okay…now that the locale is selected, you must figure out how to give the reader a sense of place by using the second thing—details.
Close your eyes. 
What sticks out in your mind about the place? Do you recall a specific scent? See unique colors, crowded streets, empty cobblestone lanes?
Do you hear music, loud noises, different languages? Feel soft tablecloth beneath your fingers or the coarse fur along a camel’s neck? Taste salt, sugar, exotic spices in the cuisine?
Unique viewpoint from Scotland's Urquhart Castle beside Loch Ness
For additional help, look over your pictures, videos or souvenirs from the place. I always do and it’s another tool to help me be in the place again so I can take readers there too. 
After re-familiarizing yourself with the place, hone in on one specific aspect of it (perhaps the answer to the question about what sticks out in your mind) and start writing, infusing it into the scene. Take us there with you.
Don’t worry about writing it perfectly. Write what comes to mind about the place—what you liked, were surprised about, activities you did, etc. Just write until you find a stopping point.
Read your writing (aloud is best) and circle or just take note of the details. Make sure several (if not all) senses have been represented.
For the opening of the article, look back over it and pick out the most interesting, shocking or funny detail or fact noted. Try to work this in as an add-in of your unique perspective.
Me at London's British Museum
With whatever you are writing, about somewhere nearby or far off, travel writing that connects with readers is about thinking back on the experience and its details, picking a starting point, being yourself and just writing it. Try it.
With my upcoming research trip, I will be keeping the above advice in mind. I will take copious notes and try to focus on particular aspects of the setting, perhaps one sense at a time to not be overwhelmed. 
Remember. This is all an experiment. You have to see what works for you as a writer. But I hope the above advice has helped even in the least bit. 
And I think a third “P” in this passion or pain thing is appropriate. Above all, it takes perseverance to search for those bits of a place that others may miss. Keep your eyes open and senses alert. You never know what you’ll uncover.
Please join the conversation. What is your approach to research? Is it a pain or passion? Or a little of both? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a historical novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, photography, and singing.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website (
www.morgantarpley.com) and blog (www.pensonaworldmap.com). You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.

No comments:

Post a Comment