On the other hand, there’s no substitute for in-person research. Being on a boat is a lot different from looking at one online – you miss the feel of the swells under the boat, the rocking of the boat that makes it hard to walk, the sounds and smells of the water. All of these things can add authenticity to your story.
When researching one story, we went to Madison, Wisconsin. We had put our main character in a Chicago-style “three-flat,” or brownstown with three storeys, each an apartment. We went all over Madison, to different neighborhoods; we talked to three realtors, a café barista, and several people on the street. It turns out there are no Chicago-style three-flats in Madison. It’s not an architectural style they use. We wouldn’t have found that out without going there, because we made the assumption that Chicago-style would be ubiquitous in the Midwest.
You can also use your job in your stories. If you work in an office, then your characters who are office workers will have more authenticity to them. If you’ve ever worked in food service, or as an auto mechanic, flight attendant, police officer, or dog trainer, at some point you can give any of these occupations to your characters and know they will read true.
Another way of getting information is to ask questions of those doing what you want your characters to do. If you identify yourself as an author, folks are willing to talk to you about all sorts of things. I’ve asked a police officer about gun regulations, talked to waiters about restaurants, musicians about venues in town, all sorts of things. When you get people talking about their lives and passions, you learn all sorts of things.
A. Catherine Noon is an author and textile artist based in Chicago, Illinois. Rachel Wilder is an author and image consultant in Las Vegas, Nevada. Together, they love to write stories and create worlds for readers to explore and enjoy. To learn more about them, please visit their website.