Saturday, September 02, 2006

"Eavesdropping" on the Web

I know, I know--it's become a cliche to comment on the richness of information available on the Internet. Nonetheless, a new usage for the Web--this huge, widely inconsistent but fascinating source of communication, information, entertainment, and so much more--occurred to me today, and I'm so glad it did.

To explain, I should go back a few years, to the time when I started researching my first novel (which I'm now trying to get published). I didn't live in the place where my characters lived, so I took a lot of trips to the locale to gather information and research. Sure, you can find out a lot of stuff at the library and online, but nothing replaces experiencing the place, meeting the people, and doing a bit of stealth research by way of observing closely (and occasionally overhearing conversations) at local hangouts. As any writer will tell you, understanding dialogue and culture are key to writing well... And reading too many written personal accounts, real or fictional--newspapers seem okay, but not those that go through an editorial process before being published in a book--feels like cheating to me. I don't want to be unduly influenced by other writings.

So to zip back up to the present day, that novel manuscript is done (if that's possible, particularly before it's been through the long editorial process it's bound to undergo if it gets accepted and eventually published) and is working hard being regularly flung out out of the nest into the big, occasionally cold world of editors and agents for review. Enter new, baby novel being brainstormed, planned, researched, and generally gestating in the womb.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the places I need to visit to do experiential research for this new novel aren't as far away as the first one, so I've been able to spend a few hours and days here and there trying to understand the sorts of milieus my characters would live in and come from, what their mindsets would be, the sights, sounds, and smells they would experience, etc. Nothing can replace experiential research--there are things I'd never be able to understand without it. It's invaluable.

However, I've always felt a little uncomfortable about some of the sneakier parts of research, and particularly with the subject of this novel and my upcoming schedule, I may only have limited opportunities to do it anyway for this project. Plus, I know how uncomfortable people are with being possible subjects to be "studied" for a novel, and I never want people to feel they've been exploited as subjects (even though the actual fictional outputs end up quite different from my original material). But I need an opportunity to make sure my characters are real and well-rounded and believable. So I'm glad to have thought of a way to "eavesdrop" on the stories, attitudes, and culture of the sorts of people my characters would be around that wasn't available until the recent boom in--you guessed it--blogging.

That's right--all those personal blogs out there are a mine for someone interested in character study. They're usually not as refined as something that would be published in print, and that rawness, that spontaneousness, is perfect for my purposes. I'm particularly fond of the kind of blogs that are written under a pseudonym, since they seem to often be better material. After a couple of short Google searches, I found some lovely ones today that will suit my purposes admirably. I'm very excited to start keeping up with them--it will complement my in-person research excellently.

Thank you, creators of the Internet.

And thank you, bloggers. I appreciate it. Don't worry--if bits of people like you end up in my novel, you'll never recognize it. Besides, as an author I have a code: I never write a story until I can empathize with all of the types of people who appear in it. Thank you for the opportunity to help me with empathizing with you and others like you so I can (hopefully) introduce others to that world in a slightly different way than you've let me into yours. As a fiction writer, it's my job.

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