Tag Archives: research

Treasures abound in research rabbit holes

Laura Ayo

Amid the extreme tides of the Bay of Fundy is a tiny island known as Isle Haute. I learned about its existence while doing research this summer for my current work-in-progress, a middle grade historical fiction novel set in 18th century Nova Scotia – then known as Acadie. I turned to the Internet to learn more about the rise and fall of the world-famous Fundy tides since they would have been a significant part of everyday life for my characters. And before I knew it, I had not only learned about the 50-foot tidal exchange and watched way-cool videos of people walking on the ocean floor during low tide, but I had stumbled upon Isle Haute.

What caught my eye about the island – notable for its 320-foot-cliffed sides – was that it appeared to float above the water, especially on misty mornings, thanks to those dramatically fluctuating tides. I should have shut down my Wi-fi right then and there and gone back to writing. But a floating island? I had to read more.

So, over the better part of the rest of my day, I read more about Isle Haute and how it not only appears to float, but has been known to disappear and reappear in a new location within the bay, or so people claim. Local legend says pirate Ned Low buried stolen treasure there in 1722 and then beheaded a member of his crew so its ghost could safeguard it until Low returned to collect the loot. But Low was captured and hanged, never to return to reclaim the treasure, and the flaming headless ghost emerges every seven years, prompting the island to change its location.

Buried treasure, of course, means there have been attempts to unearth Low’s rumored stash. And in reading about those efforts, I came across one nugget of information that actually related back to my WIP. My story is about a brother and sister who are separated from one another in 1755 when the British deported thousands of Acadians from their homeland. Thanks to my tangential research into Isle Haute, I learned there are some who believe the Acadians hid their valuables on the island during the expulsion to keep them from falling into British hands. It was also suggested that some Acadians hid out on the island to avoid the deportation.

Was there a way for me to work all of these fun tidbits of information into my story? It seemed like a stretch, so I set aside the “research” and lamented the fact that I had just spent an entire day working on my manuscript with nothing tangible to show for it.

Fast forward to last week. I tuned in to this year’s virtual YA-hoo! Fest’s historical fiction genre talk hosted by authors Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, J. Kasper Kramer and Amy Trueblood. These well-spoken and engaging panelists shared their thoughts about falling down the research rabbit hole. Their agreement that it’s not only an inevitable part of the process for historical fiction writers, but that it shouldn’t be a shameful thing – or regarded as a waste of time – was exactly what I needed to hear as I’m starting to revise my story. I’ve been neck-deep in a lot of rabbit holes while researching this novel.

Shecter embraces the process, saying it’s where she discovers interesting gems to use in her stories. She advised editing the finds, however, by incorporating only the ones that are relevant to your character’s specific journey.

While elaborating on that same idea, Kramer said the rabbit hole is worth exploring, especially when it leads to an emotional, pivotal moment for your character.

Burkinshaw even followed up the discussion with words of encouragement on Twitter: “Keep going and don’t be afraid of the research rabbit hole.”

I digested their comments over the past few days and had them in mind as I worked on my story this weekend. As much as I think a middle grade audience would love to read about flaming headless ghosts, my story isn’t about hunting for pirate treasure. And, if I’m being true to history, my tween protagonists would never have paddled a canoe across the Bay of Fundy by themselves to hide their family treasures. I did, however, find a feasible way to work in a small bit of what I discovered in the rabbit hole, and I’m energized to flesh out the scene to add it.

When I’m finished writing it, I’ll move on to the next item on my “To Research” list. Surely, it won’t take long to find out what kinds of crops the Acadians were harvesting right before the deportation. Let me just check the Internet real quick….

Focus Your Writing Through Focused Research

Laura Ayo

I once dropped a watermelon out of a second story window in the name of research. With my husband armed with a video camera and two preschoolers hopping with excitement from the sidelines, I let it plummet to the driveway below. I wanted to see how far the pink flesh would scatter after it hit the pavement. I wanted to hear the splat, watch the rind split open and analyze the juice spray pattern from the impact. I sacrificed a perfectly good watermelon for the sake of gathering sensory details that would lend authenticity to a story I was writing at the time. It ranks in the top five of the most fun I’ve had while doing research. Continue reading

Write Now, Research Later

Laura Ayo

I’m five days into one of the biggest personal challenges I’ve ever taken on as a writer. Like thousands of other writers across the globe this month, I’m attempting to write a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month. To hit the target, I need to write 1,667 words a day. I’ve either met or come close to that goal all but one day. On Nov. 2, I only wrote about 400 words. I’d love to say that life got in the way that day. I had work to do, children to mother and other responsibilities that needed my attention. But the reality of the matter is I spent four hours working on my novel that day. So, what happened to result in such a low output? I got sucked down the research rabbit hole. Continue reading

Learning the Lingo

Laura Ayo

Laura Ayo

If you’re a swimmer, you know you swim fly, back, breast and free in that order in the IM. If you know nothing about swimming, you are likely feeling like a foreigner in a country where everyone but you speaks the same language. It’s an uncomfortable, frustrating position to be in. Yet, every hobby and sport has its own lingo, just as every profession, including writing, does. I was reminded of this fact last week while talking with some writer friends. I used the acronym WIP during our conversation and one of the women interrupted me to ask what it meant. “Work in progress,” another answered. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how much there is to learn when it comes to writing terminology. Continue reading

Voracious Readers, Take Note

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

I’ve heard of writers taking a reading day–a designated day where they just read. An idea I’ve grown rather fond of. So much so that I think I’ve spent more time reading than I have writing. My weekly reading day, has transpired into reading days, and very little writing is getting done.

I am certain that it is good to read books that will aid us in various areas of our writing, so as I continue to make my way through my reading goals for 2016, I am choosing to revert to my grad school days to make my reading meaningful and intentional. Rather than just reading for fun, I am now using this time to populate my books with notes on post-its of things the author is doing that will aid me as a writer. Be it story structure, an unorthodox way of solving a problem, a way of developing a character, etc. Continue reading