Monday, September 19, 2011

Integrating Research into a Novel

blog20My daughter has just started taking horseback riding lessons.

The lady who’s instructing her wants to loop me in on what’s going on. I appreciate this, but I have no idea what she’s talking about.

She said, “Your daughter will come in and will put the harness on the horse….blah blah, brush…blah blah, saddle blanket and bumper and saddle, blah blah, girth…blah blah, bridle and bit…”

I listened politely during the first lesson, but at the second lesson I said, “I’m sorry—I’m not an equestrian.” Plus, I didn’t think I really needed to know about all the equipment. We’re not buying a horse (thankfully) and I’m not planning on buying the tack.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when I had an talk with one of my editors about my first quilting mystery, Quilt or Innocence which is coming out next summer. Y’all might be shocked to hear this, but I’m not a quilter. :)

This means I’ve done a lot of quilting research. That’s because we have to know a lot to be able to convey a subject seamlessly.

But if I write about all the details of quilting, that’s going to make the readers feel like I did with the riding instructor. Besides, I don’t want to bring my readers out of the story and mystery plot. And I’m not writing a quilting how-to book.

What my editor wanted more of was the texture and colors and patterns—things that many readers would appreciate—the art of the quilts. What she wanted less of was quilting terms (or more quilting terms in context.) Because once or twice I dropped in a quilting verb and didn’t really put it into context (not wanting to over-explain...but under explained, instead.) Her ideas seemed like excellent suggestions to me…that I was able to convey the feel of the quilting world and not do a research dump on the unsuspecting reader.

Other ways I added quilting to the book:

I’ve got a novice quilter in the book who occasionally needs pithy explanations of quilting techniques.

There are a couple of scenes where quilting terminology and fabrics are naturally integrated—in a quilt shop.

There were some quick mentions in dialogue. I tried to indicate a little bit about each character when they discussed quilting. (Confident, reticent, boastful, etc.)

I think the balance between the craft and the mystery worked out pretty well in the book…although it was a real challenge for me. Do you have to research for your books? How do you integrate your research in a natural way?