Traveling for Research
Accuracy in a short story or novel is so important. Readers who know that you’ve got something wrong will almost always call you out on it. And even if it’s only for your own peace of mind, most authors prefer to get the facts in their stories right. It’s why so many authors spend so much time doing research.
But there are some things that go into a story that just can’t be learned from another book or a web site. There’s the feel of a place. The architecture found on the streets. The little details that don’t always show up on the pretty pictures people post to the internet.
We can learn the history of a place or a person (or type of person), but we can’t actually know it until we’ve been there or spoken to them.
Most authors don’t have the opportunity to actually speak to a person or type of person we’re writing about—personally, I’ve never met a British Peer and I haven’t yet found a time-machine to take me back to Regency England. So I’ll read biographies and autobiographies. Histories and other novels about the people I’m writing about and that’s about all I can do beyond using my imagination.
For places, though, nothing beats actually going to where your story is set. I had the pleasure of doing that this past weekend. My husband and I spent a lovely weekend in Basel, Switzerland, the setting of the short story I’m writing for my next Merry Men box set.
Now you might think that traveling to Switzerland for a short story is a little much, and indeed, I toyed with the idea of making the story longer—a novella or even a full novel. But I like the short, sweet little story I’ve dreamed up so much that I decided not to change it. I am, however, adding a good deal more description to it—more than I usually put into a short story. Hell, more than I normally put into a novel, but that is the beauty of having actually been there! I can do that. I’ve got all the images and experiences fresh in my mind as I’m sitting down to write.
Basel, for those interested, is a beautiful little town. The part that we saw was, naturally, the older section since my story is set in the late 18th century, but a good deal of the city is actually much, much older than that. We wandered the winding little streets, looked at the old houses and stepped into many a church. Most dated back to the 14th and 15th centuries, which seems to be when a good bit of the city was built. And the fantastic thing about it all was that while they have certainly updated and modernized the inside of their buildings, they’ve left the outside structures just as they were when they were originally built. So, we were able to wander streets filled with lovely half-timber houses and homes which truly gave us the feeling that we could have been in the 15th, or 18th century, like the characters in my story.
I was also very lucky in that the home of a local ribbon merchant, which was built just a little before when my story is set, has been turned into a museum. I had the opportunity to wander the rooms of this grand home to see exactly how people lived at the time. It wasn’t exactly as it had been then, the curators actually took rooms from other houses of the time and put them into this one house, but still, I got a good idea and a feel for how my characters would have lived. So, here are some pictures of for you to enjoy of the city and the house (or haus, as they say in German-speaking Switzerland) at Kirschgarten.