Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting Your Hands Dirty



 Sometimes opportunity presents itself and you get to experience something unique, and other times you have make those experiences happen.

A couple years ago a forest fire broke out about a half mile from our house while we were away on a canoe trip over the weekend. It wasn’t a big fire and luckily no houses burned.
At the time I was writing a story set in a place that has recently burned.

So, I hiked out to the burn and stomped around, watching the way the ash puffed up from my shoes.


Then I inhaled deeply through my nose trying to experience the smell, and ended up in a sneezing fit.


 I put my hand in the ash. It was still a little warm, and was neither as dirty nor as fine as the ash from my wood stove.


In doing research for another story, I tried to set a space blanket on fire but all it did was crinkle and melt. 

Don't try this at home. Oh, wait. That's where I tried it.  

Anyway, I had to change that little detail in my story. I was hoping the space blanket would burst into flames. I mean, the label said, "flammable." And to me flammable means fire.


Have you done hands-on research for your stories? Did you find out anything unusual? Did you have to change your story based on your findings?

12 comments:

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  2. I did not do actual hands - on research, but I included specific descriptions of places I have been. In my novels Anabar's Run and Anabar Rises, I have several mountain scenes, and while writing them I thought back to mountains and valleys I have been to in The Alps and North Carolina. I do not believe I could have written those scenes without having first been to those places. Even though I was writing fiction and made up fictional settings, it helped to think about what those places really looked like.

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    1. Great example, Will. I've used places I've been for my writing. It does help bring a setting to life.

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  3. Some of my stories include cooking - I love that kind of hands on research! In one of my stories, the main character builds model houses - and I tried that out too.

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    1. That sounds like fun, Andrea. :-)

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  4. I have a manuscript that deals with a secret snickerdoodle recipe. To make it sound like I knew what I was talking about, I spent a day baking six different snickerdoodle recipes and had my family do a taste test. My sister really got into it and created a survey that commented on texture, taste, shape, etc. (I'm not kidding. And my brother-in-law wrote ridiculous answers). From those responses I modified a couple recipes to create a perfect one.

    And no, you can't have it! Only if the book sees the light of day. :)

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    1. Okay, Caroline. Fingers crossed that I'll be able to get the recipe!!

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  5. Most of the things I write about that would normally require research are based on things I've already lived through. For things that I can't possibly go experience now, I have a system for researching. The internet is good, non-fiction books are better, but the best research comes from actually corresponding with a person who is an expert on the topic.

    Great post, Paul.

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  6. I loved your description of the remains of the forest fire, Paul. As for my research, all I can say is "Thank God for the Internet."

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  7. WOW, Paul. The awesomest things happen in Alaska. I think I should move up north already. :D Something I've tried to get some hands-on experience with is experiencing my hometown -- but as a tourist. I walked up to our Parliament buildings totally equipped with a camera and a baseball cap (because no one wears baseball caps on normal days except for tourists :P) and basically cruised around downtown, taking photos of everything and asking for directions. It was eye-opening how differently I was treated. And it made me glad my city is so lovely to strangers. :)

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    1. Oh, that sounds like fun, Yahong!!

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  8. Great post, Paul. I do research a lot for different aspects of my stories. I know most authors are the same. I have a book I wrote that involves Paul Revere's midnight ride, and I learned a ton as a result of my research. Did you know Revere did NOT say, "The British are coming!" during that heroic ride? In fact, he said, "The Regulars are coming out!" It became a pretty integral part of my story. The fact that he did not even complete the ride himself is another thing I learned. Instead, he was the equivalent to a leg of the great race. Anyway, great post.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!