Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writer's Research. How Important Is It?

On this first day of Spring, I thought about how an author decides the season for setting a novel. When I wrote Where Love Once Lived I wanted it to be contemporary. That's all I knew at the time. I had no reason to fit it into a particular time period. Even so, while writing I felt more comfortable knowing the date of each scene. Since it didn't matter to the story, I used the date I started writing. Scene 1 also needed to happen on a Tuesday. So, the date I picked was November 16, 2004. The dates for the scenes that followed were based on this, rather arbitrary, starting date. The final scene turned out to be May 26, 2005.

I used real weather reports for the scene dates to add realism. However, I made a point of not mentioning year. Since this was my first novel, and I didn't know much about writing one, it took a long time. The book wasn't published until July 2010.

But, that didn't matter since I wanted the book to appear to be in the reader's current time. I wasn't completely successful at that. One reviewer said:

The setting is a mid-sized Southern city in the mid to late 20th century (Austin, Texas) and exceptionally apt descriptions of real recognizable places and accurate references to the "times" lend authenticity to the novel.

At one point in the book, I found a need to mention a year, or at least a decade. Here is the quote:

“Guess what?” she asked, still holding his hand. “I walked through the Tower on the way here and saw a display of photos from the seventies. Want to go look at the exhibit together after lunch?”

See the references to the seventies? Karen is talking to Brian about an exhibit in the University of Texas where they had met to talk. The reader knows at this point that they had met at the university thirty years ago. This clearly identifies the time of the story to be between 2000 and 2010.

So, even though I didn't start out to write a novel set at a particular time, I ended up with one set in a particular decade. As I wrote I considered what major events were happening in the world. Wars, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, deaths of famous people, etc. Of course there 9/11. I made it clear that the book took place after that. I didn't mention Iraq or Afghanistan, but referred to the war in the Middle East. In the sequel, Afghanistan is named.

To help research important events in history, writers use websites such as:


From here, you may select a year or a decade to find information about major happenings. If more details are needed about a particular event, then you can do an Internet search.

If you're interested in other research tools used by writers, click on Links on my website:


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