After my last post about brainstorming, I’m pleased to say that my most recent session worked. After a lengthy discussion with my daughter (involving large amounts of Valentine’s Day chocolate), I not only broke through my writer’s block, but came up with a new concept and setting for my young adult fantasy novel. I starting writing immediately, getting the ideas onto paper, until I hit page 20, when I realized that I needed to do a little research. To start with, I needed to research circus performances. While the circus isn’t the setting for my novel, it’s an important part of the backstory.

 Don’t get me wrong—I love doing research. I was in grad school for four years and I still have shelves filled with books in my field (Islamic art history and archaeology). But research involves hours of reading and note-taking. And I’ve learned that very little of that knowledge ever makes it onto the page. I may reveal a few tidbits of information when I bring up a character’s backstory or when I write a descriptive passage, but most of it is just a huge pile of notes, compiled for my own reference.

On-site research is my favorite kind, although the opportunities don’t always arise (or I can’t afford them!). As luck would have it, I just found out that the Shrine Circus is coming to town this week. I’m not a big fan of traditional circuses; I probably haven’t been to one in over thirty years and I recall it being crowded, noisy and smelly. I don’t like circuses with animal acts, either, because I’ve heard some unpleasant accounts of animal cruelty. But it’s important that I go to a circus with animals, because it ties in with my story. And I know if I just watch a circus movie or a DVD of a circus performance, it won’t have the same sensory impact.

I’ll also have to convince one of my kids to go with me, even though neither of them likes circuses. I can’t go on my own—how weird would that be, for a middle-aged mom to go to a circus by herself?? When I brought the subject up with my 11-year old son this morning, he gave me a skeptical look (“A circus, Mom? Really?”). But I think I can convince him, especially if there’s cotton candy involved. He’s a gymnast, so he’s bound to like the acrobatic acts and the trapeze artists. Who knows, maybe we’ll both be pleasantly surprised, and at the very least, I’ll be inspired.

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3 Responses to Research

  1. Jody Allen says:

    I agree that most research we do for any sort of fiction writing is more to make sure our characters live in the place and period we have placed them. As a historical writer it isn’t easy to actually travel in time for the type of research of an event but going to say Scotland or England to get a feel for the location is crucial because the sense of touch, taste and smell can’t be found in a research book. I love doing research so I don’t mind all the note taking, which is why I do it for authors. Good post.

  2. Ooh! That sounds like fun research! I did laugh, though, when you talked about how weird it would be to go to the circus by yourself. I agree; that would look a little odd. Can you take a neighbor’s kid or something? Have fun researching!

    • casacullen says:

      I’m still trying to talk my son into it. When I asked my 14 year old daughter, she just gave me a withering look (the kind that teens do so well)!

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