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Welcome to my story blog. I will post one new story here every day. You are welcome to comment on any or all of them. Enjoy!
                   --Lee Pound

Day 213 - Researching Your Novel

Many people think they can just sit down and write a novel. After all, it’s fiction so it’s all made up, isn’t it?

Yes and no.

Most fiction is set in recognizable places such as Stephen King’s Maine villages or in the case of many novels, Southern California. For instance Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries are set in a town with an uncanny resemblance to Santa Barbara.

Just because fiction is made up doesn’t mean that it can’t have a very deep connection with real life. Virtually every story is based in some way on fact. The connection may be tenuous but it is there. If you set your thriller in Germany, you had better have our German right, your villages and highways and cities described correctly, and your characters realistic.

To give you an idea of how I researched all three of my novels (see the sidebar for two of them), they were set in diverse locations, Germany, Namibia, and the Mojave Desert in Southern California. I traveled to all three areas to explore them, meet the people, choose the locales where I would set the action in the novel, take photos, and get a feel for the location. There is nothing quite like experiencing a location before you write about it.

I went to Germany twice while researching my novels, the last time the same week East and West Germany merged to form one country. I had a number of locales where very specific action scenes took place, the police station in Munich, the Vogelsberg in central Germany, and a few places in between. The action in the novels closely reflects the realities of the locations I chose to use.

I even flew to Namibia in Southern Africa to research A Gathering of Strangers. I visited every location mentioned in the novel, explored it and photographed it. I talked to people about how they lived and what their attitudes were to independence when it came in 1990.

The Mojave Desert is closer to home so I made several visits to the locales I used in the novel, including the Early Man Site where Louis Leakey excavated, Barstow, Yermo, and Newberry. I picked out the exact location of my heroine’s house even though no structure actually exists there.

All of this research gave my novels much more immediacy when I added my fictional characters. Being based on reality, I could add more detail about the locale and its history to make the novels more interesting.

Next time you write a novel, pick strong locales and research them thoroughly before writing.

One of my favorite stories is how I wrote A Gathering of Stranger based on research here at the UC Irvine Library and how it felt flat once the draft was done. After going to Namibia and adding the detail I got there, the book came alive and became far more believable.

Do the same for your books.

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