I’m writing this from Logan airport in Boston, waiting for my flight back to Atlanta. I was here for only a couple of days, doing some research for my work-in-progress manuscript, most of which takes place in the Boston area, specifically Watertown.
I’ve been to this city many times before, but I’d never been to Watertown. And, more importantly, I’ve never been here with the express objective of researching this particular novel. It put a whole different perspective on everything I saw.
This isn’t my first writing research trip. I did the same thing for my last manuscript too, currently on-submission with editors. Much of that story took place on the Oregon coast, so I traveled there for a full week, driving up and down Highway 101, visiting all the beaches that served as settings for that project.
If you are able, I can’t recommend this approach enough. Yes, I know today we have Google Earth. I’ve used it myself. And the Internet can tell us almost anything about a particular location, city, beach, rural, whatever.
But there’s nothing quite like seeing a place in person, especially when your story is already fleshed out in your head. Sure, it changes a lot. Sometimes in a bad way, as you realize ideas you have won’t work or some writing you’ve done isn’t accurate and needs fixing. But also in a good way, as you realize ideas you have won’t work or some writing you’ve done isn’t accurate and needs fixing.
Kyle can’t sit on a bench here, because there are no benches on this street. This little Greek diner is the place where two of my characters have that crucial talk and they order the same chicken and rice with egg and lemon soup I just enjoyed. I see the hidden corner of Fenway Park where the secret meeting between two other characters takes place.
Not only does the writing research trip help you see these details, it inspires you to continue your story, like you’re stepping into your own fictional world for an hour, a day, a week.
So if you’re writing about a real place, get on the road and visit if you can. I promise you won’t regret it.
Oh, and in the wise words of one of my nephews: “You need to set your next book in Hawaii.”