Jules and I were chatting recently and I said something about doing some back story writing and research. She mentioned that one of the problems she has had with writing fiction is that she gets lost in writing the back story and forgets to write the FRONT story, if you will. I know that this is one of the clues to discovering if you are avoiding your actual writing…if you are ONLY working on back story or research chances are good you’re hiding from your work in progress.
While I try to keep an eagle eye on any sneaky writing avoidance tendencies, developing a solid history for my Main Character and her world makes all the difference in knowing who she is and where she comes from…and where she is currently. It’s part of what brings it all into focus for me so that I know the answers to any question that might come up. That seems to be the trick with good world building. Whether you are writing crime fiction or horror or science fiction or whatever, for the reader to believe it the writer MUST know all the answers. Even to questions that the story may not ever ask. Because if you’re lucky enough to have some readers trust me they WILL ask every question imaginable.
So my work in progress is set in north central Florida. I was born there but I haven’t lived there since I was about four years old. It’s safe to say I don’t know much about it. Why did I set my story there? Well…it sort of set itself there. Yeah, yeah I’m The Goddess of my World but as I think any Goddess will tell you once you get the creation ball rolling it pretty quickly gets away from you and does whatever the hell it wants to do. I tried to jam it into other locations that I know better and it just wasn’t having it. Luckily I have family in that exact part of Florida that I can pump for information and, if it becomes necessary, I can visit (getting points for visiting family) and do some direct research.
Because along with back story, location clarity is extremely powerful in sucking me in when I’m reading, especially if I do NOT know the area where the story is set. I need every clue possible so I can sink into the story. I both love and dread when a book is set in Los Angeles, first because it seems like so few books are set in L.A. (excepting some of the great detective fiction, both classic and modern), second because if they get important details wrong it drives me bat-shit. Dumb things like you can’t get from Silver Lake to the West Valley at rush hour on a Friday in less than about two to three hours and there is not a chance in hell there would be a White Supremacist club at Glendale Blvd. and Alvarado…that area is now, and has been for decades, Latino…VERY Latino. White Supremacists are in Tajunga and Sunland…just so you know for future reference.
So all that to say that getting the details right is important and I may find it difficult to do that in a story set in an area that I am not really familiar with but I’m going to try and I’m going to be asking family for a lot of silly information and favors. I can only hope they find it fun enough to play along with their crazy writer cousin.
I’d love to know what experiences you have had with creating back story and doing research for your writing projects. Certainly Google and the internet in general has made this easier for writers but also…it’s giant and messy and easy to get lost in it. Have any of you developed or found any tricks or shortcuts to this process? Also do any of you have any ideas about ways we might pool our resources here at SBI to help each other with research, because that might be super cool too??? Anyway, I’d love to know about your research and back story/world building experiences.