People always say that when you write, you must write about what you know. This is wise up to a point; you will write better about things you are interested in. But if I had to only write about what I knew, then all my characters would be short horticulturists who didn’t have any siblings!
Somewhere down the line, after we have written our first, or maybe second book, we need to start discovering other things to write about, and that’s where the fun begins.
I have always enjoyed coming up with plots that give me opportunities to do some interesting research. I love being as realistic as possible, even though I am writing novels instead of non-fiction. I want my readers to be able to trust that I have done my homework on everything in the story.
So my endeavors to have a more realistic approach have led me to explore many things totally outside of my every day experiences.
I borrowed a wheelchair, and went to an up-market shopping mall in Cape Town. I went in the wheelchair as if I needed it, and observed several things that made that particular novel more real. For instance, that the door labelled “cinema access for paraplegics” could only be opened successfully if one was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
(by the way, I love how ‘Schwarzenegger’ is in the Microsoft Spellcheck)
I rubbed stinging nettle on my arm to test that particular reaction. Before you think I’m insane, it was entirely necessary; my character rubs a stinging nettle plant into the face of her attacker. The internet only says that there is a red rash… I needed to know what kind of rash, what it felt like, and how long it lasted for. So you see, totally logical…
I ate various wild berries and leaves (after checking that they were indeed edible), drove a car fitted for a disabled driver, had a massage, went to a pottery class and met and interviewed a number of very interesting people. Research is almost as fun as actually writing the book!
But now, I am confronted with a totally new concept… Make-believe.
For some unknown reason, my imagination has come up with 5 fantasy/sci-fi books that have been marvellous fun to write, but a bugger to research. One can’t focus on “realistic”, when the object or place one needs to study is somewhere in one’s own head.
I need characters that bear no resemblance to anything I have ever seen before. I need other worlds. Alien histories. Whole cultures of races that haven’t been invented yet.
The thing that is proving the most difficult is my town that is featured in at least five of my novels.
It is called Serenity, and has been voted the safest town in South Africa for the past 3 years. It is tucked away in a lovely part of the KZN Drakensberg; a haven for those who want to live a peaceful life, and a jewel for those travelling around the country in search of something special.
The problem is that it doesn’t exist, and finding a place to put it is proving to be more difficult than I thought. I can’t just get in my car and drive all over the Berg to find a suitable spot. (although it may get to that!) I don’t want to stick it in the location of an existing town, and I don’t want to put it somewhere that will cause tons of irate Drakensbergers to email me and tell me I am an idiot.
So I’d better go back to Google and do some more cyber scouting…