Today, we have L.V. Gaudet, crime, horror and children’s writer for Women in Horror Month. She talks about research, gory stuff and being a woman.
Research is Key, So Don’t Hold Out On Me
I am honored to be invited as a guest for Women in Horror Month.
Research is key to making or breaking any story. As I write and edit I am constantly asking questions. I will research any little thing. I constantly flag lines with a note to come back and double check it. Should that little door open from the left or the right? Find a picture. What does it look like? What does it sound like? Is there a smell? Sound? What cereals were available then? The purpose is to make sure my descriptions fit and feel real.
I flag things I think I know because the odds are pretty good that someone out there is smarter about it than I am. And I am human, I’m fallible. I make mistakes just like we all do, and I don’t know everything. Nobody does. I even go back and verify what I wrote in a previous story in a series to make sure I get it right.
When a writer fails to research and gets something obviously wrong, or is simply lazy about the details, the story can quickly die the death of lost interest.
Research comes in many forms, each adding to what you know.
Writing What You Know
You’ve heard it said. Who hasn’t? The proclamation that, as a writer, you must, “Write what you know!” Please do not ever take that literally, but I welcome you to take it seriously.
I have encountered a few writers who take this concept very seriously, decrying any writer who would not run out and experience a thing first hand before writing about it as frauds, failing to properly research.
How many authors actually faced off against vampires and werewolves, octopuses larger than a city block, zombies, or many of the endless other scenarios in stories? Did Wes Craven, creator of Freddy Krueger, personally experience a twisted demented man with razor-sharp blades on his glove slashing at him in his dreams, waking to discover the injuries are real?
If we only wrote what we literally personally experienced, we would be writing about our day jobs, relationships, and the frustration of that Starbuck’s associate getting our coffee order wrong instead of why it could be read as a sign of an alien invasion in progress. There would be many more books on personal relationships and not enough feeding our imaginations with the fantastical and probably impossible made to seem possibly plausible.
What you “know” encompasses every experience you have, from books and film to verbal stories from people you know, to news and researching, to real life experiences. It is also as much about using your imagination to apply what you know to new and imagined ideas and experiences as it is to what you actually know.
The best research is personal experience. Yes, this is true in my humble opinion, but it does not necessarily have to be your own experience. I have not seen the naked bloated desiccating corpse of a man in real life; nor the small things that will stand out to the human experience in the twisted wreckage of a car crash up close and in person.
Did you know that in real life or death moments stress can play incredible tricks on the brain? Make sounds into something they are not? That in an active shooter situation some people may not even hear the loud gun shots everyone around them hears?
Photos are limited to what the camera is pointed at and what the lighting allows to be captured and do not show many things the human experience picks up on. Articles tend to leave the nastiest stuff out for readability sake and to not alienate readers who would find it too much. That leaves a lot up to the imagination.
Better than imagination and researching through articles and pictures, I’ve talked to people who have experienced some of these things and the trickle out of the aftermath first hand. Getting those touches of stark reality adds a special kind of life to the story. But this is where research can take a back seat to others’ perceptions. Sometimes even to your own involuntary perceptions.
Getting people to dish the dirt on morbid details can be tough when you are not a “dude.”
Meet “the hold back.” It tends to be the first reaction to me, a woman, asking for nasty details. I found people tend hold back even after I explain that it’s okay to give me the details. By all means, ask if you are unsure or hesitant to disturb me. Not everyone can take it. Just don’t make gender-based assumptions about how delicate my mind is.
When someone narrates a dark experience in a group conversation, you can see that immediate moment of misgiving, awkward regret as they glance quickly at you, remembering that, oh yeah, you are there too. The hold back.The thought that you, the only female in the group, can’t handle it.
While I want to dig and prod for details, I have to remind myself they might not be comfortable talking about it because it is traumatic details for anyone who experienced it. They might also not be comfortable simply because of who, or what, I am (being female). But when regaling the tale to the guys, and after checking that I, or anyone else in the group, won’t be irrevocably traumatized; don’t hold back just because I have a vagina.
Research often and anything; you never know what tidbit you will need. Vary your sources, methods, and types of research; and don’t think any detail is too small. We each have our research strengths and weaknesses, but together they complement each other. Never discount a potentially good source or others’ life experiences. I have gotten some of my best research details from living through others’ experiences.
L.V. Gaudet is a Canadian author of dark fiction and a member of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild since 1993, the Horror Writers Association, and Authors of Manitoba.
L.V. grew up with a love of the darker side; sneaking down to the basement at night to watch the old horror B movies, Vincent Price being a favourite; devouring books by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and other horror authors; and has had a passion for books and the idea of creating stories and worlds a person can get lost in since reading that first novel.
This love of storytelling has her working, writing and editing into a busy life that includes a full time job, family, and doing the little things to help the writing community, including offering encouragement to others in the online writing community and volunteering time helping with the Manitoba Writers’ Guild Facebook presence, proofreading for the HWA newsletter, and visiting schools for I Love to Read month.
L.V. Gaudet lives in Manitoba with her two rescue dogs, spouse, and kids.
Books currently available on Amazon and Kindle. Watch for them coming on Kobo and other sources. Links to all available sources will be updated on her blog as they come available. Her titles include:
The McAllister Series:
(also available on Kobo and Smashwords) COMING: The Latckey Kids 2