April 11, 2016
The Essential Details of Research for your Fiction
What? Research for fiction when I’m making it all up in my brilliant head?
Yes, you need to do research even though your story is “make-believe.”
The editors with whom I worked to publish three different juvenile fiction books or series all demanded accuracy when it came to “the facts.”
In my Keystone Stables book number seven, WHISPERING HOPE, a small barn fire causes the local fire company to come to the Chambers’ ranch to, of course, put out the fire. So, what, or who, would show up to put out a potentially dangerous flame that could destroy acres of property and farmland?
To be absolutely correct in my manuscript, I interviewed a local fireman and got all the details of who, what, where, when, and why. Following is that scene with all “the facts” included accurately:
Skye followed Mrs. Chambers outside just as two screaming fire engines, a tanker, and an ambulance, all with flashing lights, barreled down the driveway and pulled a short distance from the barn. The trucks and their commotion lit up the place like a firemen’s carnival. As far as Skye could tell, about ten firemen scrambled from the trucks and started their assigned tasks.
Moving to the far side of the barn, Mr. Chambers continued to spray water on the fire. “I think it just started!” he yelled to anyone who would listen.
“Is there anyone in the barn?” one fireman yelled.
“No!” Mr. Chambers yelled. “We just got all the horses out!”
Another fireman asked, “Do you have a pond on your property?”
“Yes,” Mr. Chambers answered, “at the bottom of the fenced-in pasture.”
“Freeburg’s trucks should be here any sec,” the fireman said. “Open your gate, so their tanker can fill up.”
Mr. Chambers dropped his garden hose and raced toward the gate.
Skye stared at the scene while two men quickly slid a large plastic holding tank off the truck and started pumping water from the tanker into it. One fireman grabbed some kind of line or hose from another truck and pulled it to the plastic tank where he plugged it in. Two other men shoulder-loaded a hose from the first truck and stretched it the length of the barn. A pair of men from another truck donned breathing apparatus, grabbed fire extinguishers and hatchets, and started toward the barn.
The men with the outstretched hose started spraying water on the flames in the loft while two men from the second truck prepped their hose.
Still coughing, Skye watched the firemen perform their duties with the precision that only drill after drill had produced. Every man knew exactly what to do to put out the fire and save the barn from total destruction.
Out of the ambulance hopped two EMTs. Carrying small cases, they rushed toward Mrs. Chambers and Skye. “Are you all right?” asked a chubby female in a navy blue uniform.
Mrs. Chambers gestured toward Skye and spoke through a series of coughs. “We … got our lungs full of smoke, but we’re okay. Just let us… catch our breath.”
“Do you need any oxygen?” a tall thin EMT with a beard asked.
“I think… we’re okay,” Skye managed to say. “We were in the barn… just long enough to get the horses out.”
Gasping, Mr. Chambers joined the group while his glare never left the barn.
“Sir,” the male EMT asked Mr. Chambers, “are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Mr. Chambers said. “I didn’t breathe in any smoke… I’m just winded.”
With blasting sirens and flashing lights, three more fire trucks and another ambulance barreled down the driveway. They clattered to the far side of the barn and pulled to a screeching halt. One busy fireman in front of the barn ran to the tanker and shouted something to the driver. As the firemen hopped off the engines, the tanker backed up, maneuvered around the other trucks, and headed toward the pond.
Mrs. Chambers grabbed Skye by both shoulders and glared into her face. “Skye … where’s Wanda?”
Skye’s eyes grew as round as saucers. “Mom… I completely forgot to tell you… she wasn’t in her bed.” She then pointed at the barn. “She might be in there!”
“Wan-da!” Mrs. Chambers screamed and started running toward the barn, but Mr. Chambers grabbed her arm and stopped her. “You stay here!” he yelled. “I’ll go in.”
“You can’t go in there!” an EMT yelled.
“I have to,” he said. “One of our girls is in there!”
Mr. Chambers ran to a firemen gearing up and told him about Wanda.
“Mike!” the fireman yelled back to the hosemen. “There might be a kid in there. We’re going in.”
“Okay,” one said. Turning his water on, he and his partner streamed a second powerful surge of water into the barn’s loft.
(From WHISPERING HOPE by Marsha Hubler, pp. 60-62)
There you have an example of the detail required to make a scene come alive with truth in action. I trust that you felt like you were standing right next to Skye, watching everything that was going on.
In another one of my fiction books, THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON, the plot centers around Civil War gold coins hidden in a canyon that the main characters, three teen girl junior detectives, have to find. I make several referrals to the Battle of Gettysburg, including a map or two in the manuscript; so, of course, much research went into being accurate with the details about the coins and the battlefield. I used encyclopedias and the Internet for my research.
Oh, by the way, one of the publishing companies’ editors’ main jobs is to make sure their authors get their stories straight. The editors, in turn, must do their own research to verify the words we authors have written.
So, my point is this: when writing fiction, make sure you get “the facts” straight. I suppose the only subgenre in which you wouldn’t need much research is if you’re writing fantasy that takes place in a brand new world. You can make up your own laws, rules, details, and creatures which need to follow no standard. However, if you’re writing about anything or anyone here on planet earth, do your homework, and make your story as true to life as you can, even if it’s all a big lie. ☺
P.S. Don’t wait to sign up for a work-in-progress class at the Montrose Christian Writers’ Conference this July. Those seminars fill up fast.
(More shameless promotion)
SOUTHERN BELLE’S SPECIAL GIFT
(KEYSTONE STABLES BOOK 3)
Foster kid Skye and her horse Champ have their hooves full
trying to help Tanya Bell, a wild foster kid, handle the loss
of a mare giving birth.