Research in Williamsburg by Diane GastonNext month in The Wet Noodle Posse ezine, I write about using the internet for research. I’ve also written about using travel for research In that article, I talk about how advantageous it is to travel to the place where your story is set, but wherever you travel, you can learn something that helps in your writing.
This past week I went to Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia, with my writing friend, Amanda McCabe (A Notorious Woman, in bookstores this month). I write Regency Historical Romance, stories which take place in the early 1800s, in the time of Jane Austen, of Byron, of the Napoleonic War, so visiting a 1607 settlement or a Colonial city was not entirely relevant to my writing.
But I learned useful things anyway. Here are some of them:
1. (from Jamestown) Ships didn’t sail directly across the Atlantic Ocean from England to America. They had to sail south to the Canary Islands, to follow the wind to carry them across the ocean. It took them five months. The return trip to England had more favorable winds and a shorter northern route. This is something I’d never thought about. Now if I have a character sailing across the ocean, I’ll know to research the route!
2. (from Jamestown) John Smith could be a model for a romance hero. He had an exciting history even before Jamestown. He fought duels, was captured, enslaved, escaped. He was considered such a troublemaker Christopher Newport wanted to execute him. He was instrumental in befriending the Algonquian tribe, even though Pocahantas may not really have thrown herself across his body to save him. John Smith wrote extensively about his exploits, but he did have a tendency to embellish.
3. (from Williamsburg) I heard the sound of the horses and carriage, a rhythmic sound on the packed earth of the streets. I’ll know I’ll use that sound.
4. (from Williamsburg) We visited the Printing Press and the pressman was willing to answer lots of questions. One thing about printing newspapers in that time period and even as late as mine, the ink on the papers needed to dry. I had never thought of this and I needed to know it for my latest book which has a printing press in it.
5. (from everywhere) Just watching people can give you ideas. For example, in Williamsburg I noticed a somewhat bratty little girl of about five years who said no to everything. I thought of how unhappy the child seemed. There is a germ of an idea for a character in that little girl, I think.
That’s what we do as writers. Keep our eyes, ears, and noses open wherever we are. You never know when an idea will strike.
Where do your best ideas--about anything--strike you?