August 4th, 2012, 03:43 PM
Real research for your novels?
I'm wondering what lengths people have undergone to research events or real life situations for their writing?
Earlier this year, I went on a 'trip'.
In my novel one of my protagonists goes on a trip where he finds himself out of water and food in a harsh environment. In preparation of understanding what it was like, I took a trip of my own.
One autumn morning, I had my Father drop me off at a remote beach in southern Australia with no food, no shoes, no water, no cellphone.
I took with me only the bare essentials - a shirt, shorts, flint, fishing rod, hunting knife, old empty coffee tin and a few other minor bits and pieces. My instructions were simple, walk about twenty kilometers over rocky outcrops and harsh coastline to a destination where I'd be picked up in a couple of days (three to be exact). I had to time the event to perfection, making sure the swell was small enough so no king waves would wash me away.
The journey was tough and I quickly found out that food wasn't the problem. Around midday I caught six fish and proceeded to gut and clean them. It was hot so I stayed out of the sun to cook my catch on a makeshift grill plate I'd made out of some wire that I had found and my backpack frame. I had a nice meal and continued the trek in the late afternoon, hoping to cover at least five kilometers before the sun disappeared.
Along the way I scavenged the beach for empty water bottles, finding one, two liter container. I bunked up behind some sandstone boulders that night, using driftwood from around the area to keep a fire going through the cold hours of darkness. Without a jacket and temperatures falling to almost zero degrees, I struggled to stay warm. I used every ounce of knowledge I had learned from my life growing up in the bush. After the fire had burned down I took some of the coals and covered them with beach sand. This had a dramatic effect on my body temperature, for a while... A sleepless night incurred and I rose early to continue my walk before the sun beat-down once again.
The next day I found a creek, much to my delight as dehydration was starting to set in. I filled my stomach with as much as it would take and did the same with my water-bottle. I trekked on and only managed to catch a meager amount of fish for lunch. Fortunately I chanced upon a reef of abalone - a shelled crustacean found in shallow water. I peeled them off with my knife and packed them into the coffee tin for breakfast.
I chanced upon a small cave to sleep in that night, but firewood was difficult to find. I scoured the beach for a few hundred meters in either direction, consuming precious energy and water in the process. I'd already drunk most of the bottle and I needed to ration what was left or I'd promptly run out. Problem being, the salt in the fish and wind was drying me out like a piece of jerky.
Half way through the night, my firewood vanished into flame and I was left with no choice but to walk to keep myself warm. Rock hopping across huge expanses of stony terrain without a torch or shoes at night is dangerous, but the situation left me little choice. Walking for half a night at a crawling pace was not only energy consuming but mentally tough as well. Only allowing myself a sip of water every hour felt like the equivalent of not touching a willing Penelope Cruz.
The third day was the hardest, I still had a few kilometers to go and my water was completely gone by morning. The sun came up and brought with it the heat. I decided to bunk-down again and avoid it. My mouth by this stage felt like sandpaper and I decided consuming anything with salt in it was going to be worse for me, so I left the fish and abalone in the ocean.
I journeyed with the afternoon sun and much to my delight, my Father was waiting in the car at a well known surf-break with a big bottle of... Water!
The trip was tough, but I loved every moment of it and am glad I did it.
Last edited by Cononomous; August 4th, 2012 at 03:45 PM.
August 4th, 2012, 04:55 PM
Great research experience! Thanks for sharing.
Everyone who's gone on a field trip or hiking is also doing research, especially if you bring your imagination along and come up with story ideas.
I took a three-week trip to Ireland and England three years ago to double-check background for my Shapechanger Tales trilogy, the Mary McCarthy Chronicles. Rented a car for a week to travel in the outback. An American driving on the "wrong" (left!) side of the rode knows the purest panic when meeting an enormous oncoming tractor or tour bus on narrow country roads!
Be sure to take lots of digital pictures so they can help you better remember what you went through. The pictures can also serve in other ways. Three of my book covers have them as backdrops, over which I laid down fantasy images. I also used them on my Web site.
Google Earth is also a good way to do some research for your books. But once done with your virtual trip, try to follow up with an actual trip, so you can hear and feel the actual places, meet people, talk to them. Not only your writing but your life will be forever enriched.
August 4th, 2012, 06:01 PM
We Read for Light
Sp. Thrn. was written after a three-day float on a wild and scenic Oregon river. I didn't go into the trip with the expectation of writing about it, but sometimes an experience is so profound that we must use it.
BTW-- Your Aussie coastal trek sounds awesome. Thanks for sharing it.
August 5th, 2012, 01:31 AM
Originally Posted by Window Bar
I'd love to do a trip down one of the great American rivers, it's always been a bit of a dream of mine.
Completely agree about profound experiences. Sometimes, you never know it until you look back and say wow - that was amazing.
All the way to England and Ireland! That's a great thing to do. I'm heading there at the end of the year
Originally Posted by Laer Carroll
I've experienced seeing people drive on the right hand side of the road, and that's scary enough for me.
I did take some photos. I got photos of my exhausted face and whales and dolphins, it truly was amazing.
August 5th, 2012, 07:40 AM
I am a US DoD SERE school graduate, run a survival website and have roughly 80 survival related videos on youtube. This isn't an exercise I'd be encouraging people to undertake.
If you do not go prepared into the wild, you are asking for trouble. People die several times a year trying to play at "Bush Tucker Man" or Cody Lundin.
But yeah, cool story.
Last edited by chinookpilot77; August 5th, 2012 at 08:37 AM.
August 5th, 2012, 12:50 PM
Forgive us our tristises
Well, chinook beat me to it, but I'll chime in by saying this was a dangerous "writing" exercise.
I get the whole survivalist thing. There are plenty of folks out there for whom this is the only real adventure, who really feel renewed and stronger for having gone through those things, and I certainly don't want to piddle on the parade. I would have stopped short of three days with no dependable water, though.
You weren't out there because you were moved to adventure. At least that's not in your post. You were there to bring elements and mood of a real life survival experience into your imagined story.
I think I'd categorize your approach as method writing, and it reminds me of a mistake I made when I was taking theatre in university. I had a part in a play that required I be angry and violent for the first few seconds of a scene. I had to break a TV set on stage and make it feel real.
But I was a pretty wooden actor. I didn't have the range to pull this character off. I figured I needed to utterly become the brute, so I concocted a way to fool myself, got very, very angry, went on stage and punched that television set.
I severed three tendons on my right hand. Even after six hours of surgery and permanent stitches to hold the tendons together, nobody expected me to regain the use of those fingers. It was hard, but I did, and eventually I even got feeling back in them. They hurt like hell every so often even twenty seven years later.
I was brought into all the other classes in that school for the rest of the year as an example of how not to approach a part.
I nearly lost the use of my hand trying to bring make-believe into my real life so I could be (or seem) better at it. I purposely put myself out of control, out of safety for the sake of a mood I could have reached with a little more work in a different direction. I could have learned the skills of acting, the skill of making people believe in a violence that wasn't also real.
I'm all for the going and seeing part of research. I'm also a big fan of digging into the medical, physical, psychological data on what somebody goes through when some extreme thing happens. I would be all over connecting with survivors and interviewing them.
That's where I draw the line, though. If I went trekking to research a journey, I'd bring water every time and let my imagination fill in the differences.
Last edited by Tristis; August 5th, 2012 at 12:52 PM.
May 22nd, 2013, 12:20 PM
I stumbled on this thread a month ago and wanted to respond. I just had my birthday a few days ago and went on a trek in the woods to gain insight into a character's mindset I'm writing about. It rained on me steadily, soaked most of my clothes by day two, and the wind across the ridge cooled me down pretty fast anytime I stopped. I experienced moments of mind sharpening fear, but I have to say, facing those moments was the best thing I've done in years.
I think this is a perfectly excellent way to go about research, even if it's dangerous. I think you and I may have had similar upbringings even if half a world away from each other--this based on your approach and attitude to your adventure. The idea that a few days in the wild would lead to my death seemed unlikely, if not preposterous. I was better stocked than you and I had the back up plan: 1) drop backpack, 2) take whiskey flask and flashlight, and 3) head for the nearest road.
As long as a person has will and the mind to persevere, we, as humans, can endure starvation and cold for quite a while. A few generations ago the responses to your thread (no offense people) would have been worth a good laugh. Now, I think people's caution is probably well placed...for most. But growing up in the backwoods of Vermont (USA), not plunging headlong into the wilds leaves some important part of me discontented and unchallenged. Anyway, I appreciate your approach and if you ever need a Vermont adventure fly on over, I'll be happy to engage in some idiocy with you.