Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

January 17, 2012

Behind the Book — Tangents

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 7:37 pm

I have always wanted to be a private detective, ever since the days I collected Charlie’s Angels cards and pretended to be Kelly Garrett on the playground of Westview Elementary School. Once, a few years ago, I even looked into some part-time detecting work, in an attempt to realize that long-ago dream.

In my work as a writer, I do a lot of research. Actually, I get to do a lot of research. This is one of the things I most love about writing. It’s like being Kelly Garrett under cover on a case– on numerous cases– every single day. Set me down in front of the internet or in a library or archive surrounded by books and other materials, and I will lose myself for hours or, depending on the subject I’m dealing with, days.

The only problem is that I will almost always wander off on tangents. This is one of the amazing things about research. There’s so much to learn! Not just about the thing you’re specifically researching but about everything!

Today was a research day. Unlike yesterday, which was creatively frustrating, today was one of those days when I completely lost track of time and all sense of place and just disappeared into my story. For a while I stayed admirably on point and then, inevitably, I diverged. It’s much like going on a road trip and stopping at all the interesting and unexpected places along the route (which, incidentally, is the way I like to go road tripping).

The tangents always start the same way: “I’ll just check on this one thing, and then I’ll go right back to what I was doing…” And that one thing leads to another thing, which leads to another and another, until, before I know it, I’m about fifty or sixty miles (or more) off course.

Some of these tangents can lead to dead ends– they’re just ways to satisfy my curiosity on a random subject I’ve stumbled across. While others actually lead me to information I didn’t expect and didn’t know, but which I end up weaving into my books. These kinds of discoveries can influence and shape the plot and the story, but I just have to know when to get back on the road, back on track, and keep going.

Today I went on a small tangent which led to a a big discovery– an exciting plot addition! A huge plot addition! I always know when I’ve struck gold (as opposed to reaching that dead end) when I don’t want to stop reading about whatever it is or watching some sort of video footage of it or digging deeper and deeper till I uncover every last thing there is to know about it. When I’m this into an idea, it’s amazing how much I can learn about it in such a short time.

I’m dying to share my finds, but that would only spoil the story for you, so instead I’ll share a handful of great resources for the Charlie’s Angel in every writer:

NewspaperARCHIVE.com
National Geographic Map Machine
The Library of Congress
FBI Records
Info Please
Life Magazine
Real Military Videos
The Margaret Herrick Library
The Crime Library