Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Researching a Setting

I've been researching for my current work in progress (wip). I love to research where my story will take place. Whether a writer writes historical or contemporary, there is a lot that should go into a setting.

A setting is one of the four corners of a stories foundation. The other three being: Scene (atmosphere,  clothing, set), characters, and plot.

I've learned a lot from authors about researching a setting. If you're an avid reader,  you'll find this interesting:

My current wip is set in a lighthouse in the U.P. of Michigan in 1875. My brain freezes on overload of questions. What type of lens did they use? Did a light keeper sleep? How did the light stay lit? Could wind break the lighthouse glass? Did a light keeper also run rescue missions?  What was a day in the life like? 

So I have tapped into several resources. Not the least of which being Google Books. I've read a volume written in the early 1900s about the history of lighthouses. I've read a kids novel about the daughter of a light keeper. But by far the most helpful has been the journal my dad picked up for me. Written by the light keeper who managed the lighthouse my wip is loosely based off of.

A day in the life?

"Saved a drunken miner stuck on an ice block on Lake Superior"
"Whitewashed the cottage kitchen"
"Drive wagon to nearby town for supplies."
"The boys caught three trout in the river"
"Inspection tomorrow. Lamp mechanics fine tuned in preparation for the inspector"

...and so on.

It's been so fascinating to know they had to polish the lenses on a daily basis. Even a smudge was unnacceptable. The types of oil used to light a lens varied depending on the decade and the location of the lighthouse. The Fresnel lens wasn't the first lighthouse light - it was a lamp with lots of little mirrors. Lighthouse keepers often were up around the clock during bad weather. If the lamp went out, the blame was on them for the lost lives to follow. Random inspections were made by the United States Lighthouse Board ... if you didn't pass, you were replaced as light keeper. Proxy lightkeepers were allowed to maintain the lighthouse for a time during the illness of the master keeper. Often there were assistants (family - wives, children), to aid the lightkeeper in manning his post. Lighthouse keepers aided on the harbors. They met ships. They rescued drunks that wandered onto the ice during the night and woke to find the ice had broken away and floated off.

Research takes you into a culture. An author wants to get into the mindset, the culture, the era, and the weather. It's how they take you, the reader, there. Hearing it first hand makes all the difference. How do authors research? They do it with a curiosity that kills the cat...only in these cases, that curiosity writes a book instead!

As a reader, what settings have MADE a book for you--the kind of setting you remember months after the book has closed?


  1. I love research. To the point I have to make myself stop and just write the story already!

    Favorite settings to read about...Victorian London (Anne Perry's Inspector Monk series) and current day L.A. (Michael Connolly's latest Harry Bosch novel that just arrived via Kindle yesterday! Squee!)

    I've written about lighthouses, Gilded Age mansions, mining camps, ranches, hotels, cowtowns, logging camps, and shipyards. All fun! Oh, and Civil War battlefields, too. I'm currently working on a post-Civil War Cavalry novel. :)

    1. LOL!!! I know, research can be SO addicting!!! Inspector Monk series? Never heard. Must check it out! :)

    2. btw, Civil War Cavalry history is fascinating!!! I read a few books on teh history of the US Cavalry a few years ago. SO cool

  2. Research and bunny trails...Erica you've accomplished a lot of work to have written about all those places! I've researched a lot of stuff. One day I'll be able to say how many stories I've written about all of them.

  3. I love research and have a book I wrote where the heroine desires to be a lighthouse keeper. :)

  4. What a gem your Dad found for you!

    I also enjoy research. Even if you don't use half the stuff you find, it's fascinating.


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