Why Research is the Extra Element in Writing by Teresa Inge
I grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Combining my love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel.
I also love it when I research a new story I am writing. Most of the time this means a road trip with my family to the story’s location and most of the time I discover new ideas.
When researching my current story “Wine Country Murder,” my husband and I toured the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia. We elected to do the Reserve Wine Tasting tour, which meant visiting the basement where wines are produced and stored. I took pictures of oak barrels, machinery, and anything else I found pertinent to my research. Soon, the wine was flowing and so were my thoughts. But when a bat flew above our heads, it corked a new story plot. Later, the guide mentioned that bats often fly into their basement. I just never know what I will discover during research.
My family also joined me on a weekend trip to the Cavalier on the Hill hotel in Virginia Beach to research “Guide to Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries. As soon as we arrived I combed the grounds where the murder would take place. I took pictures, explored areas not meant for guests, and did lots of snooping! Since this was a historic hotel, I stumbled across vintage items such as an old sauna that had a large lock strapped across the front. The enormous sauna was tucked in a dark corner on the bottom floor. I could only imagine guests of the 1920′s and 30′s going into the sauna for good health.
We next ventured to the Outerbanks in North Carolina to research a “Milepost Murder.” While driving through Nags Head during a summer storm, I noticed a wobbly street sign. I thought what if I kill a character with a milepost sign. Milepost signs are located throughout the Outerbanks to guide tourists to restaurants, hotels, and businesses. I then based the story on my favorite beach shop in Nags Head, and added a twist by placing a bar next door. My daughter made up the title to complete the story.
Since mystery readers are savvy and intelligent, authors have to conduct Internet research, interviews, and sometimes visit the story’s location to ensure facts are correct. Even though mystery authors write fiction, facts must be real.
Another trip included driving across the Rudy Inlet Bridge in Virginia Beach. I wondered what would happen if a vehicle went over the side. Would it sink? Float? Could a barge fit in the inlet? These questions led to researching “Fishing for Murder,” in the FishNets anthology.
Since I needed answers, I made my way under the bridge and discovered a small barge in the inlet. As I began taking pictures, a homeless woman scurried up the bridge wall and out of sight. I had disturbed her hiding place. Just as I turned, a man on a bicycle with a basket of beer approached me. He asked why I was taking pictures. The situation was daunting but it brought new light to my writing when I discovered an underground of homeless people.
While researching “Shopping for Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries, I based the setting on the Great Bridge Shopping Center in Chesapeake. Like most shoppers, I had always pulled into a front parking space and walked into the store. Since a scene in my story required a speeding vehicle behind the center, I drove my car to the back to do my research. Dangerous. Perhaps. But I had to know if a vehicle could fit in the small space.
Since mystery writing can be isolating, I enjoy conducting research since it adds an extra element to my writing process.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today she doesn’t carry a rod, like her idol, but she hotrods. She assists two busy
executives and is president of Sisters in Crime, Virginia Beach chapter.
Love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel. Teresa’s published stories include Fishing for Murder in the Fish Nets anthology and Guide to Murder and Shopping for Murder in Virginia is for Mysteries. Her website is http://www.teresainge.com.
Long ago, as the earth was cooling, people used odd machines called “typewriters” to compose notes to one another.
These machines were developed after the discovery of electricity, but they were powered by a different source, human fingers. And they were called “manual” because of this.
They were difficult to use, these first “manual” typewriters. They consisted of a series of letters at the end of long rods, attached to a board, also with letters. When a finger hit a letter on the “keyboard”, the rod that held that letter would move and imprint the letter on a piece of paper, using an inked ribbon.
This was a huge step up from clay tablets, stone carving or foul fowl feathers, and the new technology was embraced by most people.
Not by the folks who wrote the stories you found in your daily newspaper, though.
These guys were lazy, or just conserving energy, so when they typed something other than their story, they used shortcuts.
“Manual” typewriters took a lot of pressure to pound the “keys” on the “keyboard” for that the impression to show up on the paper, so the first thing those guys eliminated was capital letters. To print a capital took an extra “keystroke”. The next thing those guys eliminated was a lot of punctuation. Again, an extra stroke.
Instead, they’d sling the carriage return and just start another paragraph.
So for a time everybody wrote like e.e.cummings.
But that wasn’t enough. It still took extra time to write notes or instructions to the men who actually set the type, using a machine adapted from a typewriter called a “linotype.” This machine produced a line of type (letters) molded from the pot of hot, liquid lead at the side of the machine.
Not incidentally, the molten lead floated around in the air and coated everything, including the coffee we drank.
The number of keystrokes was getting trimmed, but it still took more time than was warranted on composing messages to friends or other useless drivel, like notes from your interview, so abbreviations evolved.
u r a pal
And it wasn’t enough to use abbrv., you could also cut whole words out. For instance, if you wanted to say, “I’d appreciate it if you would respond to my question,” you could say “gimme yes or no.”
Invariably, the pronouns were dropped also. “hope all is well,” “coming over?”
As things go, this technology went the way of swan feathers, until today lots of people correspond using only their thumbs and a string of seemingly miscellaneous letters. OMG, BFF, ROTHWL, LOL, IMHO.
Gibberish? I think not. Just the evolving result of those memos and notes we typed to each other. I seldom use caps even today when I correspond, now by email, with friends still in the business.
When you write email, do you write in complete sentences and use capitals?
I’m tickled to think that the texters believe they’ve discovered something new.
We got there first.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When the earth was cooling, Michele Drier was a staff writer at the San Jose Mercury-News and caught the tail end of manual typewriters and hot lead. The lead is gone but the caps never came back.
Her first Amy Hobbes Newspaper Mystery, Edited for Death, set at a daily newspaper, was well-reviewed including the Midwest Book Review which called it “Riveting and much recommended.” The second mystery, Labeled for Death, due out in summer 2013, looks at the California wine industry. Michele is also the author of the five-volume Kandesky Vampire Chronicles, paranormal romances set in the field of international celebrity gossip journalism.