Friday, April 7, 2017

What to Do Before a Research Trip

Just because you write fiction doesn’t mean you can make up everything. But other than dozing off in dry non-fiction research books, how else can you discover the information you need to know to make your story come alive?

A research trip, silly rabbit!

Whoa, there. Before you go packing your bags, you've got some pre-research trip planning. I know. All you spontaneous types out there just flinched. But here's the dealio . . . **steps up to the mike, clears throat, manifests the most motherly tone possible**

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

But you can’t even formulate a plan until you figure out some basic information. It’s worth it in the long run if you sit down ask yourself 3 key questions:

1. What are you looking for? 

What’s the whole point of this research trip? What do you want to find out? Your trip hinges on the answer to this question. Let’s use my research trip for The Captive Heart as an example. I wanted to know what life was like in the late 18th century in the rural south, especially for an outsider (as was my heroine). Pinpoint what it is that will be important for you to know in writing your story. Don’t gloss over this because your entire trip orbits around the answer to this question. This is your prime objective.

2. Where are you going?

It’s a big world out there. You can’t tromp around all of it for the sake of a story. You have to decide exactly what geographical location will best suit your trip. Going back to my example, the rural south is a large area. Even South Carolina where my story takes place covers a lot of ground. So I narrowed the area down to about a hundred mile stretch that included where my characters would’ve roamed.

3. How are you going to find what you want to know?

Once you’ve figured out why you’re going and where, it’s time to figure out how to discover the information you want to find. Remember to keep your prime objective in mind while doing this. Back to my example, I brainstormed a list of possibilities like hiking the area, hitting up museums, visiting reenactment historical sites, making an appointment with a curator, stopping by at an Indian reservation. Yeah, that’s quite a big list because at this point in the research trip stage, the sky’s the limit. Dream big. You might not get to do everything you’d like, but at least you’ll have a plan.

So, now you have an idea of what, where and how, but what comes next? How exactly do you pull it all together into one coherent research trip?

Figure Out Your Budget

I’m great with words but money? Not so much. Okay, not at all, unless it comes to spending it. Still, budgeting is a necessary evil if you don’t have unlimited funds. You’re going to have to crunch numbers sooner or later, and the first number you need to figure out is how much money you have to invest. This will determine the other thing you need to budget: your time. How long you stay on a research trip hinges on how long you can stay—and you won’t know that until you have a dollar amount. Just a little heads up: it will never be as much as you want and you’ll never get to stay as long as you want. But don’t panic, even if all you can manage is a weekend jaunt, or just a day trip, whatever you can do is totally worth it. 

Draft an Itinerary

Remember all that brainstorming you did? Now's the time to figure out if doing all those things is feasible. Map out your days. I suggest you don't do more than 2 things in a day. If you can squeak in more, fabulous. If not and you can only get to one, hey, that's better than nothing, right? This itinerary is a guideline for you so that you don't waste your time once you arrive at your destination. If you discover other things to do that pique your interest more than what you'd planned, then go for it.


The last thing to do before you step foot out your door on your research trip is to pray. I know. Sounds a little holier than thou. But this is an important step. Not that you’ll be calling down the heavens to bless your trip, though that’s not a bad idea, but think about asking God to prepare the way ahead of time to bring people across your path that you can be a blessing to. There’s no reason in the world your research trip can’t also be a missions trip. It’s not all about you or your story all the time. Pray that you’d be mindful to see opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ while you’re in a different place.

If you take the time to put all these pieces into place before you go galavanting off into the sunset, I predict your research trip will be a rousing success.


chappydebbie said...

More great advice! Sharing!

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