Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Making it Real

From a real estate magazine, the house my MC lives in
Setting plays such an important part of every story. Books that transport you into their world, real or imaginary, make the story come alive in your mind. When I can see the place as I read, hear the water echoing off the concrete as it drips, feel the cold seep beneath my jacket, smell the musty decay -- then you've hooked me. I want to read more.

But how do you make your words create a visual image for your reader?

I'm a very visual person. So for me, photos are a must. Even when I'm making something up, I like to have a visual resource to reference. I'll scour the internet for images that evoke a sense of place. I've drawn neighborhood maps, house layouts and figured out routes on Map Quest.

But sometimes there's no substitute for actually visiting a place. A pivotal scene in one of my novels takes place at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. While the lab isn't exactly shrouded in mystery (they hold an open house every year), there aren't a lot of photos on the web. And try looking it up on Google Earth. You can't get past the gate. I did so many carefully worded searches on Google that I started to worry that government representatives might show up at my door to ask what the hell I was doing!

My solution? Go to the annual open house. And since I didn't have time to see everything I wanted to see, I scheduled a group tour a month later. Yes, it was time consuming. But oh, how valuable. Those scenes would not be as visually real without that hands-on experience.

This weekend I'm taking a road trip, tracing the path my characters go on in part of the story. As a bonus, I'm tying it in with the book release party for my agent-mate, Caroline Starr Rose. Woo-hoo!

How far are you willing to go to make a scene real?


Three wonderful bloggers who I count as friends had books released into the world yesterday. Caroline Starr Rose's debut MG verse novel, MAY B
Robin Mellom's debut YA romantic comedy, DITCHED
Beth Revis' second YA sci-fi novel, A MILLION SUNS

Congrats to all of them!!

And just so you know, all three of them are holding contests to celebrate their book releases, so you might want to pay them a visit to see what they're giving away. And don't forget to tell them happy book birthday!!


Laura Pauling said...

So many great books this month! I made my husband use our anniversary date to go down to Boston to visit a museum. I took notes about everything since I couldn't take pictures! How romantic! :)

And I want to visit his brother and family in D.C. to visit the Spy Museum! I'm sure there are storylines there just waiting for me!

Unknown said...

There's a spy museum?????? (I can totally see Laura visiting that.)

I google images all the time, especially for houses and interiors. I've been know to google bedding, just so I can get the detail just so (it was for a sports-themed room).

Because I'm a visual person, I even make character collages. But I've never gone anywhere cool like you and Laura.

I'm obviously writing the wrong books.

Kristan Hoffman said...

With my current project, I've become increasingly dependent on (and almost fond of) research. I definitely have many “sketchy” searches in my browser history. But so far no one's come to take me away, so they must realize I'm a writer. ;)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

How cool to visit JPL!! #verynice This is why I'm so glad I've traveled around and done a bunch of stuff before I started writing. Even so, I still pull down visuals, like you - just yesterday I was haunting the web for North Shore mansions (for my characters, natch).

And I can't wait to read A MILLION SUNS!!! It's waiting on my Kindle - I'm making myself catch up on edits before I let myself read it. :)

Sherrie Petersen said...

Laura: A spy museum? For real? I had no idea but it sounds totally cool!

Stina: I've heard of character collages but I've never been that organized or patient! Maybe someday...

Kristan: I LOVE doing research. Sometimes I may be TOO fond of it. But the writing is so much easier when I have something concrete to reference because everything else is, you know, made up!

Susan: JPL is one of the coolest places ever! I'm so glad I could work it into my book :P Those North Shore mansions sound cool. I'll be Laura would be looking for a way INTO one with all her spy techniques!

Susan R. Mills said...

Researching setting is time consuming, but like you said, it's so worth it. And you had a great experience too, I'm sure. I went on a little road search to the town I based one of my novels on. While writing it, I also visited Google Earth a million times. It got me into the setting over and over again.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I totally want to go to the Spy Museum!! Great post, Sherrie. And a ginormous happy book birthday to all three of our awesome writer buds!! Caroline's book is wonderful. :-)

Indigo said...

Oh, I'm definitely a visual writer. My latest WIP centers around an asylum in PA. I would love to go see it. Currently the other half is used for government research so...we'll have to wait and see on that one. (Hugs)Indigo

Kelly Polark said...

That is very cool research!

My current mg wip is set in the northern Wisconsin woods where I regularly go visit, so I do take notes and also google pictures for it. I also went to a Bigfoot Research Organization meeting for research as well.

I usually google pics, but I am sure being able to actually be at the place (or similar) place you are describing would be absolutely helpful to get every sense of it!

Krispy said...

I totally get what you mean about setting and how it can really make a book. It's funny you have this post up today because I did a book review today where I go on and on about how the setting of the book really played a big part in why I loved it so much!

I'm a very visual person too. I've definitely looked up a few houses online. Haha. That's so cool that you're going on a road trip for research. Writing = best job in the world. ;)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

When I lived in the DC area, my dad and I drove out to the spy museum...only to find out it was closed! This was right after 9/11, and a lot of museums were slow to re-open.

Looking forward to seeing you! My mom and I went to Madrid, NM today, a coal town turned ghost town turned artist colony. You need to go!

Laurie J. Edwards said...

How far would I go to research a story? China. And I even ate deep-fried water beetles and boiled worms just to be sure I could accurately describe them.

Jackee said...

What a fun trip! I think I would be willing to do such a trip (headed to German and London soon), but how even more awesome that you got to meet up with Caroline in ALBQ! That puts the cherry on top of the cake. :o)

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