How Research Can Shape Your Novel
As I continue writing my latest novel Moon Spyer, I can’t help notice how research can shape your novel. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve done several things regarding research, of which I posted on Facebook. You can see that post below. What I’ve noticed however, is not only how research can shape your novel but also how it can shape your characters.
As I sat talking with San Juan County Undersheriff Zac Reimer yesterday, my conscious purpose was to get procedural detail about a crime scene. The crime scene is that of a young girl killed by a drunk driver named Mr. Paul Kimmy. He walked me through the steps of what the deputies would do in a case like the one I’m writing about in Moon Spyer. But something sort of magical happened while we talked, I started empathizing for the drunk driver. Because in Moon Spyer, he’s not a bad guy but just an older, lonely man who drinks too much. At that point, a twinkling of his backstory emerged. As Undersheriff Zac and I continued to go back-and-forth through detail–his procedural, mine fictional–more and more information came out about Mr. Kimmy. Like this:
- Why he was lonely
- Why he drank
- How people in the community view him, and more importantly,
- How law enforcement view him.
Bingo! Zac is this empathetic, caring man who wants to protect everyone in the community. There are always bad players–drug dealers, thieves, rapists, and murderers. But usually law enforcers apprehend people who have made a mistake. Turned left when they should’ve turned right. Sped through a school zone. Came to fisticuffs, even, with someone they were angry with. It doesn’t make them bad. It’s only made them choose the wrong option, at that given moment.
This was our second visit and our talk got super-detailed. Our first talk was more cursory. At one point, Zac said, “Sometimes good people can act badly.”
We can always envision what a scene might be or who a character is. We can hide away in our shell behind our computer and type and type…
But I have found that upon each discussion with people, like Teresa Barnett, Eric Gardner, Ron Krebs, Zac Reimer, the dispatch crew, and Julie at Vinny’s the background reveals itself and scenes split open. The story emerges and is fuller for having spoken with these people. But I think more importantly I’ve gotten to know some pretty fantastic people in the process.
So, I guess this post, How Research Can Shape Your Novel, is really just a big “Thank you!” To everyone.