The research behind the writing

Have you ever read a story that is so immersive in the time, place, and setting, that you could swear the author must have lived through what they were writing about?

First off, that’s the sign of a good writer. And secondly, that means the writer did such a fantastic job of researching their subject and setting that nothing ever jarred you out of the story because it felt out of place. In fact, it felt natural.

Honestly, as an unpublished writer, research is something I both love and hate.

I love it because, hey, I love to read! I love to learn new things! I will happily spend an hour diving down a rabbit hole about Henry VIII’s wives, and emerge on the other side knowing far more than I ever needed to about cleaning practices in the 16th century.

But I also hate it because it takes time away from the actual writing of a story, making that dream of publication seem even further out of my grasp.

However, if I want that dream to become reality, I have to make sure my story won’t be picked apart by a well-meaning editor just doing their job.

A lot of people think that historical writers are the only ones who need to research. And while, yes, historical fiction writers bear the brunt of research, since the setting of their stories is critical before they even put one word on the page, almost any kind of writer benefits from a helpful librarian, a good search engine, and free time to browse Wikipedia.

mistletow-webFor example, I’m working on a Christmas romance novella that takes place in the Mt. Hood area of Oregon. I wanted a specific landmark to be covered in mistletoe, but then I had to stop and think: Does mistletoe grow in Oregon? (Yes, it will grow pretty much anywhere.)  There is a snowstorm brewing that strands a few characters in my fictional town for several days. I had to do a quick search of typical winter weather in that area, because the last thing I need is for the whole thing that sets the story in motion to not be possible because Oregon only gets an average of two feet of snow a year (it doesn’t, by the way). Even the livelihood of one of the characters has to be researched: I want the hero to be an Iditarod competitor who trains dogs and takes tourists on dog sled excursions during the off-season. But wait– is that even a thing outside of Alaska? Thanks to Google, I now know that it does, and that I need to convince my husband that we need to take another trip to Oregon in winter so we can take a dog sled ride (all in the name of research, of course!).

violin-webAnd don’t get me started on my symphony murder mystery! A lot of the research in that story has taken the last four years, because it’s literally the job I do of a living every day. I’ve learned so much about my field, and I can channel that into my story. However, the only things I know about murder are what I’ve read in other murder mysteries and seen on TV, so that part of the story definitely requires some research. (You all will vouch for me if the FBI confiscates my computer for disturbing web searches, right?)

So, the next time you fall down a rabbit hole in the name of research, just tell yourself: it will make your story better in the long run.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am thankful for all of our bloggers and readers here at Inspirational Messages!



Headline news

Extra, extra, read all about it!

Yeah, my life isn’t that exciting that I need a newsboy crying out my current front page headlines. The daily minutiae of my life is barely even worthy of a headline. But, it’s my blog, so I can make even small news seem big.

So, here’s the scoop from the Ludwig Tribune:

Symphony season nearly over!


The Omaha Symphony's recent performance of John Adams' Harmonielehre,
The Omaha Symphony’s recent performance of John Adams’ Harmonielehre,

One of the things I love about my job is that it is extremely cyclical. Like a school year, the symphony season runs from September through June, with a three and half month period that we call the off-season. Since it’s now the end of April, we only have a little more than a month of concerts left until we are DONE with the 2015/2016 symphony season! And it’s going to be a busy six weeks, with eight more concerts to go, and some big ones at that: The Oak Ridge Boys, our annual Gala featuring Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, a concert featuring music from superhero movies, two outdoor concerts, and the season closer, Scheherazade. That’s a lot of public relations work I still need to do!

But the best part is that when our season officially winds down, the symphony has eight designated Fridays that we close up the office and take a break. Yes, that’s right, I get summer Fridays off! They are still two months away, but I’m already planning everything I want to do on those blissful summer Fridays.

Word count increases, murder mystery might finally be solved (or at least finished)

Sitting in my office window seat, writing away.
Sitting in my office window seat, writing away.

This past spring, I’ve really been trying to make myself accountable to my writing by setting aside time to work, dig deeper into my story, and set goals for myself. I try to work over my lunch break about three to four days a week, sitting in my office’s deep window seat for a change of scenery. Sometimes I’m editing, other times I’m doing actual writing, but the point is that I’m working!

I also began meeting regularly with three other writing friends in the area about once a month for “brainstorming” sessions. We meet at a coffee shop and discuss story ideas, plot holes that need fixing, character arcs that need help, career advice, etc. It’s been extremely beneficial to help keep me accountable (after all, it’s not fun to come if nothing has changed in my story since we last met!), and I love being part of a give and take with fellow writers. They’ve really helped me in a short time, so special thanks to Jennifer, Mikal, and Sara!

I’ve set a goal that I’d like a polished first draft of my murder mystery finished by August 1. (Oh great, now it’s in print for the world to see!) Hopefully I can spend some of those hot summer Fridays inside in the cool AC with my laptop and imaginary friends!

Notes and Happenings:

  • I joined Twitter! Follow me at @ssqueenludwig
  • I’ll be at the Wordsower’s Writing Conference this weekend, so please say hello if you are there!
  • I joined my church’s choir and praise team this spring! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed reading music and helping to lead worship, rather than just participating.
  • I’m working on a flower garden in the back yard! One of my summer Friday projects is to transform an area of dead grass into a flower bed (hopefully no rocks lurk below the soil!).
  • I witnessed my best friend’s husband become a U.S. citizen last week! Julio now has dual citizenship with the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, where he lives with my college roommate Ruth, and their daughter Liliana.