Last week, I posted about the importance of conducting research by using resources other than the internet, a sort of “get thee to a library” call to action.
Today, I’m tossing another caveat into the research stock pot – conducting research in the flesh.
Technology is a wonderful thing. I can Skype around the world at no cost. I’ve spent many a night going over pitch campaigns with the always delightful Russell Southam of Little Big Film Company. I’ve pitched to companies in Canada, Australia and the U.K. I’ve pitched to New York while still in L.A. I’ve given interviews and I’ve conducted interviews, often from the comfort of my home office, kitty in lap, in my most comfortable if not totally presentable jammies. Unless it was a video pitch. For those, I would put on a blouse.
But ultimately, for research, this method falls woefully short. There is no substitute for interviewing people in the flesh.
Why? In-person communication hinges on not what just is said, but what isn’t said as well. You begin to study the person more closely – their mannerisms, their cadence. The question that brings a faint blush to their cheeks. You get the opportunity to see them as a whole, as opposed to a disembodied voice. Their clothing – is it pressed? Are they groomed? Are their nails well-tended? Did you see that nicotine stain on his finger – he may be a closet smoker. All these little clues, these little gifts are right there for you, the writer, to use, in the creation of a character.
Real world research is also visceral. It’s one thing to cull through racing videos on YouTube or episodes of Top Gear, and quite another to take a ride at a speedway in excess of 170 miles per hour, I can assure you. You experience the event as your character does. You feel the G-forces as the car reaches maximum speed, and the drop when the car goes low to take a curve. You hear the roar of the cars; you feel the vibration deep down, almost inside your soul. You glance out your window, an inch from the wall, and realize that at every moment, one mistake could mean your death. This kind of experiential research will color every single word you write. The experience will have altered something inside you. It can be a game-changer in the life or death of your script.
Your imagination is uour greatest gift and tool, of course, but if you really want to hit that home-run, if you really want to write with authenticity, then it is your duty – and your obligation to your story – to get out and, in the words of Auntie Mame: “Live, live, live!”
Besides, you know what? Speed is fun.
Now, go write.
HRH, Princess Scribe