Wild Words . . . Photos & Fine Art

Co-creating by heart with sandy cathcart through writers helps and art info, focusing on all things wild.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Researching a nonfiction or fiction story

Okay! You’ve been told to write what you know, and you’ve done that, but now you would like to branch out a bit, make some new discoveries or try out something different. Or perhaps you’re writing a fiction story and your character is facing something that you know nothing about. What do you do?


If that is a bad word to you, let me change your mind.

When I was first told as a new writer to write what I know, I immediately coupled that idea with the words author, Lee Roddy, told me years ago. “If you want to be a writer, then go out and live.”

So, if you need to write what you know, then know more.

I’ve had the most wonderful experiences since that time. I’ve traveled many countries, learned to windsurf, downhill and cross country ski, shoot class IV rapids, become a good markswoman with rifles and pistols, hunt, fly fish, ride horses, track game, draw, paint, and much more. Even if I never wrote about these things, my life would have been richer.

Another thing I do is interview people who either know what I need to know or who have experienced something unusual. In doing so, I’ve learned some fascinating things and met incredible people who sky dive, are experts at wrangling, falling trees, herding cows, drawing wildlife, homesteading in Alaska, photographing for National Geographic and much more. In the process I’ve accumulated some amazing friends.

I also read.

Someone once said that a writer must read in order to be a good writer. I totally believe that. Not only because you learn style and technique, but also because you learn, period.

I read everything from children’s books to heavy-duty theology books. It is true that some reading is more enjoyable than others, but I force myself through some of the stuff that isn’t as much fun but holds tons of good information. Keep a couple of highlighters by your side and a dictionary. Mark good passages, look up the words you don’t know. I also use little post-it flags to mark pages. My husband and I have become such avid readers that we haven’t had television reception for over ten years.

I’ll talk more about the individual aspects of research at a later date, but for now, simply consider the benefits.

Today, I’m posting photos of a mountain lion that I took at a recent artist invitation. This lion kept singling me out of the crowd and looking right at me.

Jenny, one of the members of my critique group, is writing a fiction story in which one of her main characters is attacked by a cougar and her hero comes to the rescue.

Jenny doesn’t know much about cougars (mountain lions) or guys who work in the woods, but I do, because I have met several mountain lions in the woods and have interviewed wildlife officials in seven different states. So, she has done some research, some interviews, and then runs the story by me.

Now, she wants to know what a cougar’s eyes look like when they’re staring at you. So Viola! Here are my photos for her to see as she imagines herself alone, in the wilderness, without a weapon, and with the cougar staring straight at her.

Is a picture worth ten thousand words?

See for yourself.

An even better thing is for the two of us to take a trip to a local wildlife rehabilitation clinic and let her experience “the look” first hand.

Ahhhh, the value of research . . . t could even save a life . . . and it may be your own.


At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I won't say much about cougars except that the last pictures tells me that though this guy is relaxed, he is all business and I don't want to be at the business end of his paws or teeth!
But I do want to talk about journaling. When I was doing a bit this morning I thought about your past postings on that subject. Lots of folks get scared because they think they have to have a pretty (or masculine) purchased book and be routine, systematic, consistent -- all those words that scare some of us. There's more than one way to skin a cat (speaking of those cougars once more). Sometimes I've written a letter to a close friend that shares my heart and burden to a friend. It is so intimate I copy it and put it in my journal. I've jotted a note on the bulletin at church--on the back of envelopes, napkins, receipts, etc. These either get amplified or just the thought as it stand put in my journal(sometimes copied, sometimes literally pasted). I journal in a mad frenzy for a while, then have embarrassing gaps. Sometimes I'm deeeeep and profound, other times silly. Sometime I write to God, sometimes to myself. My topics range from praise and thanks to God, to struggling again (ad infinitum) with my besetting sins), to whimsical thoughts and fancies. Sometimes I jot a note to refer to such and such a date for it's the seed for an article. I've noticed that blog postings are close to journal entries. In fact, a recent comment I posted in response to the blogger's pondereance became just that. So, if you don't like boundaries--coloring inside the lines--be freed up. Oh, I am currently doing a JOY Journal -- going through Psalms and commenting on each verse that brings me JOY. The spiral notebook is filling. And as Sandy said, journals come in everything from moleskines to the Dollar Store version to expensive stationary store models or spiral notebooks.
Guess that's enough for now.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my, I shoulda edited that before sending. Oh well. Time for another cup of coffee!!


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