Friday, December 12, 2008

Research and Inspiration

My friend, Diana, started a book last year that took place on the Isle of Man. It was a place she dreamed of visting one day and loved researching the area. Her story got to a point where she felt she couldn’t do the Isle of Man justice until experiencing it in person. She got that opportunity this summer. I asked her to share her thoughts on her trip and how it gave her a different perspective on her story and research.

Thanks, Diana, for sharing your story!


If I think back to my years growing up in the Northwest and how I loved to spend my time, a few different pursuits and interests come to mind, among them acting and being outdoors and also traveling and writing. Every spare moment, if I wasn’t creating a skit, I could be found writing on some scrap of paper or tearing pages out of notebooks to write a poem or short story. And traveling opened a whole new realm to me – to see the world and discover inspiration quite out of the blue waiting around any corner. I would get ideas for stories whilst on a road trip and be scrawling notes and chapters in the car, staring out the window, culling ideas as my Dad drove singing along to the Beach Boys and my sister played with her toys in the seat next to me.

But I think no other trip was more profound to me, for influencing my writing than my first visit to Europe when I was eleven years old. Now I had NO desire to go on this trip as I knew it involved flying for a very long time, a very great distance over a very big ocean and to be honest, that idea really freaked me out! But I found once we arrived there, that Europe was so different from what I had known or ever seen that I immediately became very curious. And it was there at the old age of eleven and a HALF (that half was important! J ) that I learned a lot about myself and was struck with how just atmosphere and landscape could inspire me as I wrote. I wrote a lot of poems during those weeks, some silly, some serious, some fairly descent and some AWFUL (like REALLY bad ;-) ), but all of that writing served to show me that if I looked out beyond my horizon and what I knew, there was much to be seen and much to learn and all of it inspired me. I was bitten by the travel bug on that trip more than any other and wrote wrote, wrote after that vacation.

Twenty years have passed since that adventure to other shores, and many poems and stories later, I found myself last year working on a short novel for NanoWriMo that was set in a place that I loved, located across that same vast ocean. I had been researching it for the past few years. But I was in a quandary. Here was a subject that intrigued me and that I loved to write about but I found I could only do so much research from my desk at home and thusly only write so much as well, before I hit a sort of wall where detail was needed to continue the story with the right amount of depth and accuracy, to really help bring it to life. I had studied the beautiful Isle of Man for many years and had learned all sorts of facts and trivia but yet, not having been there in person to see it for myself, the story lacked something within the heart of it. It needed a shot of authenticity and though I felt plenty inspired and excited about the subject I needed an added shot of inspiration myself!

So I packed my bags last summer and set off for the UK, Ireland and the Isle of Man for two weeks. I needed to see the lay of the land on the Island, the details of the shops and pubs, how the roads wound and connected and feel the spirit of the lovely people who inhabited this jewel I had come to know and love only through photos, videos and books. I hadn’t been anywhere in Europe for those twenty years and it was interesting returning as an adult. I found that many of the same things in travel still inspire my writing – a rain storm, no matter where it is will always draw my pen out of hibernation and I was drenched in rain on this trip, and thusly inspiration. Travel also gave me a more accurate view of the way people live in a place – the reality of dealing with day to day elements like weather and road conditions, sea conditions and how it can affect people’s spirits (or not – the Manx are a spirited and plucky bunch!) But being able to bring a dose of reality to my story by injecting details like, just exactly what a violently keeling boat on the open sea feels like as a wave tumbles over the top of it, or what motorbikers gearing up for a famous road race are feeling and how thrilled they really are to race their bikes around the most hilly and curving, challenging race track in the world; this kind of research was worth more than any cost to get there to experience it. And it still gives me goose bumps! J I have a feeling that whether I am writing about a place down the street or half way round the world, that implementing some research in person if I can, will be helpful in future writing endeavours. Taking time to soak in the environment and meet people, to research the details in a tangible way can bring new life to a work and make all the difference.

I’d love to know how you research for a story you are writing or how you overcome a writing block. And what inspires you?

Thanks Tami for inviting me to share some thoughts on writing!

Diana LaGrandeur


Tracy Belsher said...

Hi Diana - thanks for sharing this. I agree, meeting people, living like a local and getting into the spirit of a place is great fodder for world building.

Recently though, I’ve discovered that traveling to a distant land can be as close as walking into a store you wouldn't normally frequent. Or hanging out with a different group of friends. There are diverse worlds all around us.

So - where's you next dream location? ;)

Diana said...

Hi Tracy! Thanks for your comment - I couldn't agree with you more, there are new experiences to be found everywhere around us to inspire new ideas or help with a current story in progress. Whether it be meeting someone new that lives down the street or going to the local park or Farmer's market - anywhere can open up a whole differentt world. That's one thing I find so exciting about writing, is that there are moments everywhere we are that can lend to our writing and enhance it! :-)

I'm thankful I was able to take that trip after 5 years to help this particular story I'm working on but I look forward to where the next might take me - perhaps on an adventure through my backyard of L.A.! But hmm, as for my next dream location? hee, I've always wanted to visit New Zealand or Iceland! Hopefully one day! :-)

Thanks for having me as a guest blogger on YA Edge! This is a fantastic blog!