Today I am joined by author Helena Fairfax, writer of contemporary romance/women’s fiction.
Helena has written a very interesting post entitled ‘Stepping out of the Comfort Zone with Writer Research’, where she highlights the importance of the ‘realistic details in making a scene come completely alive.’
Helena has just released her latest novel Felicity at The Cross Hotel set in the Lake District, which is described as a feel-good read for the summer.
Please do continue reading for a really insightful piece of writing….
Stepping out of the Comfort Zone with Writer Research
by Helena Fairfax
Writers spend a lot of their day making things up.
Making stuff up is fun, but there are times when the imagination just isn’t enough. If one of your characters has to fly her own plane, or spend the night in a prison cell, you can try and imagine that scenario as much as you like, but there is always the risk of something missing when you put the scene together.
It’s not so much the inaccuracies – it’s the little realistic details that are important in making a scene come completely alive.
For some writers the most important thing is getting down the first draft. Where there are scenes that need extra research, they make a note and go back to expand on the details later.
Personally, once I have an outline of a novel, I like to do most of the research before starting my draft. I’ve often found I’ve come across something unexpected in the research that’s changed how I want to write the story.
Research and the internet
The first and most obvious – and the easiest – place to start is the internet.
Youtube has been my “go-to” for many a scene, and I’m grateful to the many Youtube users out there who want to record their experiences. You can find videos and helpful explanations for almost everything – from sailing a narrowboat to giving a dog a manicure.
Of course nothing beats experiencing these things for yourself, but there are some times when that’s just not possible. I was most grateful to Youtube when I had to write a scene in which the hero does a parachute jump. I’m terrified of heights – as was my hero! There is no way on earth I would ever jump out of a plane, no matter how much the story depended on it. Luckily there are several Youtubers who have done so, and have recorded themselves.
I was able to find footage that showed jumps from start to finish in great detail. I was easily able to imagine going through it myself – including experiencing the hero’s terror.
If you need to research a setting, then obviously nothing beats getting away from your desk and travelling to the location to experience it for yourself. This way you can provide the sort of detail readers love, and which makes your novel so much richer. And believe me, readers notice everything! According to this article in The Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/18/ian-rankin-caused-pub-install-footrail-bar-described-incorrectly/, the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh – a favourite haunt of Ian Rankins’ fictional detective Rebus – installed a footrest at the bar after Rankin had wrongly described it as having one!
If you can’t actually get to a location, then again, the internet is a wonderful tool. Flickr, Tumblr and Pinterest are all sources of excellent photos and travel blogs. By using Google Earth I’ve managed to zoom in to streets I’ve needed to see and virtually walk or drive along them. I’ve also put a call out on social media in the past to ask if anyone has been to that area, and I’ve been sent the most wonderful photos that I’ve been allowed to use for promoting my novel.
Interviewing an expert
Even the trusty internet doesn’t know everything, and the usual research methods can quite often draw a blank. In this case, the only answer is to seek out an expert and ask for help.
For writers – who are often introverts and spend every day at home with just their imaginary characters for company – getting in touch with a stranger can seem horribly like stepping out of the comfort zone. You can feel a little foolish, especially if you write in my genre. But I’ve found most people are actually intrigued to receive an email that begins, “I’m writing a romance novel and I’m looking for some advice…”
This is how I struck up a friendship with two divers from the Penrith Divers’ Club in Cumbria, in the Lake District.
The hero of my new novel, Felicity at the Cross Hotel, is a diver, and I needed help writing up a vital scene in the story. I’ve been lucky enough to go diving myself, in the sea around the Caribbean, but that sort of diving – in warm seas – is very different from freshwater diving in the freezing waters of the Lake District.
I searched high and low but was unable to find anything that went into enough detail about what this experience was like. The internet was a help, in that I managed to find the details of one of the divers from the club. I got in touch, and was overwhelmed by their interest in my book and the help they gave. I took a trip out to Ullswater, where two divers kitted up especially so that I could see the difference between putting on a drysuit (for cold or freshwater diving) and a wet-suit (which I’d worn in the Caribbean). The divers also went into great detail about their procedures for an emergency, and explained exactly what they could see beneath the surface of Ullswater. Here was where researching before putting pen to paper was invaluable. Their stories of dives past gave me fresh ideas for one particular scene and I tackled it in a totally different way.
The divers who helped me are still friends today, and Felicity at the Cross Hotel is dedicated to them.
Since then I’ve been in touch with many other experts in the field – from psychiatrists to sportsmen – and I’ve always found people very generous with their time and help, as well as inspiring me with new stories.
Here is the blurb to Felicity at the Cross Hotel:
A quaint hotel in the Lake District. The Cross Hotel is the perfect getaway. Or is it?
Felicity Everdene needs a break from the family business. Driving through the Lake District to the Cross Hotel, past the shining lake and the mountains, everything seems perfect. But Felicity soon discovers all is not well at the Cross Hotel …
Patrick Cross left the village of Emmside years ago never intending to return, but his father has left him the family’s hotel in his will, and now he’s forced to come back. With a missing barmaid, a grumpy chef, and the hotel losing money, the arrival of Felicity Everdene from the notorious Everdene family only adds to Patrick’s troubles.
With so much to overcome, can Felicity and Patrick bring happiness to the Cross Hotel … and find happiness for themselves?
Purchase Link ~ Felicity at the Cross Hotel
About the Author:
Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was written through the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.
Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.
Website ~ https://helenafairfax.com/
Twitter ~ @HelenaFairfax