Friday, February 25, 2011

Integrating Our Research

Striped_Notepad_4710 (7)As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m working on a new mystery series for Penguin/NAL…a series set in the South that involves a quilting guild.

I’ve probably never mentioned my quilting expertise before…because it’s non-existent. :)

Quilting is the perfect topic for me to research, though, because I’ve always been interested in quilting as an art form and as a way to tell stories.

Recently, I’ve been immersed in quilting books and magazines, talked to quilters, visited quilt shops, and watched videos on quilting.

I know way more information about quilting than needs to go into the book.

Sometimes I read books and feel like the author was trying to convey all of what he’d learned about a topic to the reader, resulting in an information dump.

This could be a setting dump, a character skill dump, a forensics investigation dump, etc. It takes lots of different forms, but it’s rarely fun to read. It makes me feel like the writer is showing off…although they’re probably just trying to include all the information they dug up during the long hours of research.

So what I’m trying to do with my quilting research is integrate it naturally into the story in bits and pieces.

I’m finding different ways to do this. Some of the integration is as simple as letting individual preference of quilt styles indicate the different personalities of the characters.

Some of the research figures into the detail and history of a quilt that’s an important prop in the mystery.

Some of the research integrates into setting detail as I describe the environments where the ladies quilt together (bees, guild meetings)—and where one plots murder. :)

I’m writing a murder mystery—not a how-to book on quilting. So the quilting research is there to add flavor to the novel instead of overwhelming it.

I’m looking at the research a lot like I look at character worksheets and questionnaires—I don’t need to use all the information I find out about my character. The information is just there for me to develop a well-rounded character. Similarly, the research is there for me to develop a textured book.

How do you integrate your research naturally into your novel?