At one point or another in writing a novel, we must do research. It’s that part of the author’s life that may feel tedious but it so important to get the most realistic snapshot of the time and place for your readers.
Whether you’re writing historical, fantasy, YA, women’s or commercial fiction, it’s just part of the writing turf. And while I’ve learned numerous facts about everything from how one company purchases another, to the last time the U.S. printed a $1,000 bill, to how a mobster would order a hit on someone from prison, to the average price of a Bel Air mansion on line, let’s face it, online research has its limitations.
What starts with a little trip …
My husband and I love to travel. And whenever I’m on a trip, I evaluate the new locale as a potential setting for a scene in my novels. Case in point, we were in London last February and stayed at the St. Martin’s Lane hotel. Nestled within the hotel is a cozy little hideaway called “The Den,” where hotel guests may relax and have tea. It feels like someone’s living room, and it was the perfect room to write into a scene. In For Position Only, Craig Keller takes a sabbatical from the agency and decides to divest himself of some of his most precious art. There, he runs into Jane Mercer, who happens to be meeting her client during London’s Fashion Week. A fiery clash ensues between the former lovers but that’s all I can tell you until this baby is published. It was the perfect place to write my penultimate scene.
It’s So LA
My husband and I make regular trips to the #Los Angeles area, not just because I need to stay attuned to timely details and cultural shifts for my novels, which are all set in LA, but because it’s home, we have family there, and we genuinely love it.
On a recent trip, we rented a Mini Cooper (a fun car if you haven’t driven one) and blazed a trail from West Hollywood to Malibu. I kept track of things like time on the freeway, exits, corners and landmarks. It was essential in keeping the verisimilitude in my novels on track. It helped me write a scene in which Craig and Jane take an urgent drive from the Dolby theater to his home in Malibu (I won’t reveal why it was urgent or what happened when they got to Malibu) and I needed to know which route he would take, how long of a drive it would be and other details to add color to the fictional drive I painted in the book.
And after all, anyone from LA knows how much time people spend in their cars. There was no way to romanticize that aspect of LA life, although I’ll confess, since Craig has a special relationship with his Bentley, there was a bit of fictional romanticizing.
Stroll Through Your Scene Like You Mean It
Walking was also important in getting the right feel down to write a scene. We toured downtown Santa Monica where the fictional agency sits, through Tongva Park and around the corner to Ocean Avenue. The park sets the first scene in Being Jane, when Jane is meeting her best friend, Marisa Silva, at Herringbone restaurant. She arrived a bit early and got more than she bargained for in running into Craig Keller. I literally walked, took photos and made notes. It was incredibly helpful to engage all the senses and, most importantly, understand exactly how the scene should be written.
The other things I absorb are conversations, dialect and colloquialisms that deeply inform my characters, their depth and the writing itself. It’s no surprise there are #Yoga studios all over LA and the West Hollywood streets were abuzz with Yoga-speak. Although I didn’t want to appear to be Mrs. Kravitz at best or a stalker at worst, I noticed both women and men discussing Yoga, either on their way to a class or just because it’s a big part of their lives. Yeah, I know, how stereotypical, but I was gently reminded of certain essentials that are part of LA’s unique make up. Ones I needed to pay attention to in order to present an authentic world to my readers.
The Importance of Being Nice
Okay, I’ll admit it. This bit is self-aggrandizing because I grew up there, but California people are genuinely nice and conversational. I love the cheerful nature of people in LA and have often thought it’s because of the perfect weather – the idyllic climate creates a general sense of sun-drenched happiness and well-being. How could it not?
I love to sponge the places I’m writing about because, as we all know, the devil is in the details. Travel is not cheap, but it sure does take the guessing out of what you’re writing. Download a sample of Being Jane by clicking here.