writing “real” from research

Hi Elizabeth,

2. making something sound personal and believeable when the writer hasn’t actually been there/done that.

There are different ways of doing research. It can be done by reading books, articles etc, or it can be done by interviewing people who have done what you’re wanting to write about. If you’re writing historical fiction, you can’t interview people because they’re dead, but you can do the next best thing, which is to find “oral histories” — ie — interviews with people in similar circumstances that have been preserved in archives and libraries.

For my novel, The Hunger, I needed to find out what it was like to be an anorexic. I had no personal experience with this so what I first did was find a social worker who worked with people with eating disorders. I also visited an eating disorder wing at a hospital and interviewed a psychiatrist who treated the problem. The most useful thing I did, though, was to find a person who had suffered from an eating disorder and was willing to talk to me. The woman who agreed to help me was Heather (she’s thanked in the acknowledgements). I asked her VERY specific questions, like what she’d eat for breakfast and how she’d avoid eating more; about how she hid her weight loss and what SHE saw when she looked in the mirror. Do you remember that vomit scene? Heather — after much prompting by me — told me each detail, right down to getting her hair out of the way and cleaning the stray vomit off the space heater. It was those specific details that allowed me to write the scene even though I had never done this myself.

You can also do the things you want to write about. For example, in The Hunger, Paula goes to the grocery store and spends 40 bucks on junk food. As research, I went to a grocery store with a calculator and chose forty bucks’ worth of junk food. What she puts in her shopping cart is what I put in mine. The stares I got for my choices is the same as what she got.

Is there a specific thing you are wanting to research? Let me know and I’ll suggest how you might do it.

Author: Marsha

I write historical fiction, mostly from the perspective of young people who are thrust in the midst of war.