Research and the Author – Location, Location, Location

In the last post, I talked about Gwendolyn, our soft and sweet heroine, and Kurt, our strong jawed hero, meeting at a very variable sunset. You can read about it here, as I discussed the effect time could have on their meetings. Now let’s talk about place.

I feel more comfortable describing places that I know or are close to what I know. For the purposes of this article, however, I’m going to push outside my comfort zone and show how I pursue research in unfamiliar places. But let’s keep to the sweet Gwendolyn and the manly Kurt.

Starting with the modern day romance, let’s head to the United States. I’ve never been and I don’t expect I’ll be lucky enough to travel there in the near future, so I’m almost going in blind. I’ve picked up bits from films, tv, social media and books, so I have a place to start and it could be worse. This is a great point to find all the bits that I’ve got wrong and point them out in a kindly way.

I thought I’d pick a place in Maine and randomly chose Machias as a reference point. Because I’m unfamiliar with the area and don’t want to get into trouble, I’m going to give a fake name but use the town as a starting point to look up climate, sunset times, seasons, languages and all that fun stuff. I’ll use Morley as the name of the town, picked at random after a quick check on the internet to make sure that there isn’t actually a place called Morley, Maine, USA. As in the last article, we’ll use 10th November as a starting point as Gwendolyn first meets Kurt at sunset. Sunset at East Machias (just down the road from Machias, and a point on the Time and Date website but with far fewer houses) on 10th November is 4.06pm so Gwendolyn has just popped out from her work at the local library as it starts to get dark.

The local library has been in existence since the early 1800s according to its website, with the first catalogue printed in 1843. As an author who breaks out in supernatural unless I’m very careful, having old and possibly haunted things around is useful. There doesn’t seem to be many staff according to the website but I’m writing fiction so Gwendolyn has left her good friend Becky in charge as she leaves to do something – but what? I’ve checked the map on Google (other internet maps are available) and there is a USPS post office right across the street. Gwendolyn is obviously picking up a parcel for the library. By checking the map I’ve given Gwendolyn a reason to be crossing the road around the time of sunset to bump into the manly Kurt, and the delay of their first encounter means that she misses the pick up time at the post office (closes at 4pm according to their website). This gives me conflict and interactions to play with straight away.

Kurt has just bought a local auto repair shop and has called into town. Checking on the map, there is a cemetery a little further down the road. Perhaps he was on his way there to visit the grave of an ancestor when he bumped into Gwendolyn for the first time and was dazzled by her loveliness. He may wonder if he could see her again and if so, where could he take her on a date? According to the local Chamber of Commerce, there are no festivals on in November (the Wine and Beer Tasting Festival in October looks fun, though) but there is a local Chinese restaurant that does Shrimp Lo Mein for $13 which may be good.

Just by picking a location, having a rummage around and playing with ideas I have found all sorts of possible starts to a story. What is more, I’ve found out all this information without leaving my very comfortable chair at my home in Leeds. You should never put the research and detail before the story. If you feel that Kurt would like to take Gwendolyn to an Italian restaurant but can’t find one on the map – invent it! You are telling a story, not swearing an oath in court. The story always comes first. However, if you take time to look around a location, it can be a wonderful boost to the start of a story and a great store of inspiration.

I’ll go into historical locations in the next article.

You can find the rest of the posts on this here – Research and the Author, Collected Posts

Sites that I used for research

Google Maps

Machais Post Office

Porter Memorial Library

Machias Chamber of Commerce

Time and Date

Hing Garden Restaurant

2 thoughts on “Research and the Author – Location, Location, Location

  1. How fascinating Lyssa. I would never have thought that authors have to prep so much (which is why I will never be a writer!). It must take ages, and I guess a lot of that detail doesn’t make it into the final story. Thank you for a fascinating insight!

    1. Helen, for me, that’s just a quick skim. To be honest I usually have a fairly clear idea in my mind before I start, and I have no shame about changing things to make the plot work but I like to know the background as a solid foundation. I suppose that I wanted to show that a brief look around can really help support writing and you don’t need special skills to do that. And yes, I research loads and loads and get carried away to a stupid degree with stuff that never reaches a reader, but it’s fun.

      I also feel that a little bit of research can suggest ideas and plots and side characters and all sorts of good things. I half want to write the romance of Kurt and Gwendolyn now!

      Thank you for commenting. I’m really glad that you found it interesting.

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