Tag Archives: Research

Into The Unknown (aka No Sex Please, I’m British)

Writing what you know only gets you so far, and unless you’re writing a memoir, that’s not very far at all. All fiction involves, by definition, making stuff up: getting into the heads and lives of people who are not quite like yourself and then translating what you find onto the page.

Some writers love research. They are never happier than in the library, interviewing and shadowing other people, and generally immersing themselves in the lives they want to write about, and that’s great for them. It’s not for me; I find research slow and laborious; I find myself struggling to remember everything I’ve learned, and struggling to convert it into useful story. This is one of the reasons I tend to write reasonably close to home; realistic fiction instead of the epic fantasy or historical worlds of some of my friends and idols.

But whether you write close to home or years and light-years away, there are always details about which we need to know a little more. One of the subjects that can be a small but important element of that, is relationships and sex. However wild and crazy one’s youth (and my parents read this, so let’s just agree “not and not”), when one has been straight-forwardly married for a while, one’s memory and experience of such things tends to be limited.

And whilst one can get information vicariously, through friends and books, sex tends to be a subject people don’t like to talk about in anything but the broadest terms, and relationships tend to be presented with a gloss too. But good fiction often requires variety and realism – even if we stay away from explicit Shades of Grey / Harlequin / Mills and Boon -type writing, we may need to conjure happy and unhappy relationships, cheating or exploitation, fantasies and arguments. We need to demonstrate not just what happened, but how it felt and impacted the characters afterwards.

A friend recently told me about the Casual Sex Project. Before you fret, don’t worry, it doesn’t require participation. This is a website where real people, anonymously post real experiences of sex outside a romantic relationship. It’s eye-opening, occasionally eye-popping, and very graphic, so not for those of a prudish or sensitive disposition (and not for your work laptop / internet connection).

If you’re looking to write, even allude to, a character’s sexual experience that’s beyond your own – it’s an interesting resource. And much less cringe-worthy than asking your Facebook friends if they would help you describe what it feels like to have an affair / screw the teacher / sleep with your best friend’s boyfriend while she’s asleep in the same bed / whatever.

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Travels with their pens

Somehow, it’s Monday again. And Little Miss Muse seems to have taken the day off to batten down the hatches against the impending storm. We are far enough North and inland that Sandy shouldn’t mean more than high winds and torrential rain here; my thoughts are with those up and down the East coast USA who are in its path. I suspect LMM is rather more concerned about another imminent arrival – Baby’s due date is tomorrow, and even if he’s held up, he’ll be here within the next couple of weeks. Hubby didn’t look thrilled when I suggested we name the baby as the hurricane though…

Anyway, as a consequence of LMM’s vacation, I have nothing useful to say about writing and no successes (or even failures) to report on my own writing. So instead, I’d like to tell you about two inspirational writer friends of mine who have taken trips this month in furtherance of their writing plans.

Claire Larson is planning to write about her family history, which involves some nasty events which happened in Paraguay several decades ago. I only heard about that a few weeks ago when she announced that she was heading down to South America on a research trip, which involved meeting some rather unsavoury characters, being smuggled across borders and all the time negotiating the corruption and other risks of travelling in that part of the world. To help a local family (including the man who saved Claire’s father’s life) to make their way out of poverty, Claire and her family have returned the proud owners of a pregnant cow, and half a farm in Paraguay. Presumably the cow is staying there, and hasn’t been freighted back to Canada!

Claire’s back in Toronto now, and even just the story of her trip – let alone the events she was researching – makes for exciting reading. The extent of my research tends to be a laptop or a library, so my hat is firmly off to her for going the extra (thousand) mile(s).  I can’t wait to read her novel!

On the subject of long-distance travel, another writing friend is back from Scotland this morning. Not quite the same level of danger, but certainly an epic journey with its own trials and tribulations to overcome. The gentlemen of the Wayfarer’s Quest walked a gruelling 500 miles across the Highlands of Scotland during October, most of it in costume as adventurers from times gone by.

They met with some serious obstacles on the way, both in the planning – when a number of team members had to drop out for health and other reasons – and in the execution. Just a few days into the trip, Wayfarer Dan came down with a severe case of food poisoning. The Doctor’s advice of bed rest and then “no strenuous activity for a few weeks” nearly put paid to the Quest, but these boys don’t back down easily, and they managed to fit in the full distance in spite of a shortened time schedule and reduced health.

This time, the main aim of the game was not writing, but fundraising. The Wayfarers have raised over $15,000 for cancer charities, and are still looking for ways to increase that figure. And one of those, is potentially going to be a book about the trip. Again, it makes me feel like I should do more to write more! You can read about the trip and how to contribute to the Wayfarers’ cause at http://www.wayfarerquest.com/ The blog has some fantastic photos too, and I’m sure there will be more to come now that the boys are back in Toronto (Just need to drop off a Timmies voucher first to help them get over the jet lag!)


How far have you been in pursuit of a story? Where would you like to go to finalise that last detail or even a huge plot point? And what’s stopping you?!



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