Researching your story: Taking a research trip for your writing

Meet me in St. Louie, Louie! The trip for the current story I'm working on to Saint Louis, MO. Photo by Steve Moses

Meet me in St. Louie, Louie! The trip for the current story I’m working on to Saint Louis, MO. Photo by Steve Moses

Have story? Will travel.

And by traveling I mean getting on a train to St. Louis, Missouri to hang out for 12 hours and then coming right back. That’s what I’m doing this weekend. This research trip was a long time over due.

There’s this story I’ve been working on since before February 2012. It’s set in the south in the 1940s. I had been having some trouble with it at the time. It wasn’t until I hopped a train to Chicago that I realized what the story was and what it could possibly be. On that train trip up and back, the story opened up to me. In fact, one of the key scenes takes place on a train and by far it’s one of my favorites.

Now, I’m getting back on the train to go to Saint Louis, another place that is in this story.

This trip comes at a perfect time as well. This particular story is being worked on as a short story. Because my writing schedule is about to pick up soon with another project (Yes, I’m still going to tell you about that soon. Very soon-ish.) I wanted to work on it to the point that I could pick it up after my project. But I also wanted it solidified as a story with its own arc and rhythm and enter it for contests and possible publication later. Essentially, I want this story to grow roots and to find its tribe so making it a short story that could become a novela or novel later on was a perfect idea.

I’ve done some research already on the front end, i.e. the internet, but I’ve never been to Saint Louis and needed to get a feel for the place. My friend and I also needed a mini-vacay for not a lot of money so there you go… a solution.

This is how I plan to conduct my research:

Getting a feel

Because this is a short trip, I’m wanting to play tourist and get a feel for the place. Since my story takes place in the 1940s, I’m going to want to see buildings and places that maybe from that time period (which will happens as we we’re on our way to some fun attractions). I’m also going to want to see names of streets, neighborhoods, statues of big local heroes (maybe). ┬áIn the 12 hours I will be there, I want to get a chance to know what kind of place Saint Louie is. At least enough to do…

A bit of plotting and character collecting

The next part of the story takes place in Missouri, but I’m not quite sure what the next turn in the plot would be. I’m the kind who writes as the characters tell me to write so doing some plotting, if only mentally, could help when I finally sit down and write this thing.

I also want to do a bit of people watching. What are Missourians like? Do they talk slow? Are there certain phrases they use? How would a southern girl do in a midwest city?

Checking my scenes

Some of the scenes I’ve already written happen on a train. Since I’ll be on one, I want to make sure my descriptions are dead on. The sway of the trains. The sound of the rails. The smell of the food from the food car. It’s been a bit since I’ve ridden on that train (and that line) so I’ll be double checking my work, sort of speak.

Getting ready for the next trip, maybe.

This is a short trip. Twelve hours! So, I’m going to have notes and questions that will need to be addressed. What I don’t find online and through pictures I’ll have to interview people to get. I’m one who likes to conduct interviews in person. So if it looks like I’ll have to interview half a dozen people or more, I’ll ride the train back and spend more time in the city.

How am I going to do this, collect all this information? I’m going to take pictures. Lots. Notes, of course. But also I’m be paying attention to my natural reactions to things. This is very much me becoming my character and discovering the city at the same time she is.

You can follow me on Twitter or Google+ as I go through this adventure, I’m sure I’ll have tons to say. I’ll also post stuff on my Pinterest board after awhile.

Have you been on a research trip for your writing? How did you handle it?

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New look, focus for Writingtoinsanity.com

Icess Fernandez Rojas is a writer, blogger, teacher, and journalist. Her commentary has appeared in The Guardian and on Huffington Post Latino Voices. Her fiction has been published in literary journals/anthologies such as Minvera Rising and Soul’s Road. She’s working on her first book and teaches fiction writing classes. Contact her or sign up to know more.

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3 thoughts on “Researching your story: Taking a research trip for your writing

  1. I was in St. Louis in March, it is a great city. Good spots for food too. The one thing that stuck me was the African American History that is all over the city. I hope you get to enjoy the city like I did.

  2. Pingback: Learning to write historical fiction | Icess Fernandez Rojas

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