Following a Research Path & Arriving at Story

I’m thinking, not even too optimistically, that I’m going to be ready to start the second draft of my WIP somewhere on or about 1/1/11. Sounds auspicious, right? I feel like I’ve got a handle on most of the characters–on what they want and, a bit, about how that’s going to weave into, conflict with my hero’s path. The mother has become MUCH meaner and nastier (which will make Terri Thayer VERY happy), and she’s on the way to really messing with my MC’s life. I want to spend a bit more time on the father (who obviously has to be more than just a sweet, gentle do-nothing of a guy) and then get some notes down on the scene ideas.

For this draft, though, I want to weave more of the history. Yes, some details will wait for later revisions, but–for the first draft–I felt like I was writing in a desert (which Chicago is NOT) and, by the end, that was driving me nuts. In not a good way. So I want to be able to feel myself and Caro truly in the place and time as I write forward. Which means I’ll also be doing a LOT of reading in the next few weeks. And, as I’ve said before, that reading is not just about facts; it’s about story.

I thought I’d show you one bit of the path I took yesterday, as I read books about model electric trains, specifically those made & sold by Lionel in the early 1900s. Here are the basic steps.

1. A couple of weeks ago, I revisited Caro’s younger brother, Abe, who had done pretty much nothing in the first draft, other than whine and demand an expensive violin. I decided I didn’t want to go with the violin, partly because I wasn’t looking forward to researching music (yes, I think you do need to have some interest in the stuff you’re going to have to read about). Also, though, the violin thread was putting a lot of focus on Abe & money, and there’s already another money thread going on and, really, that was just too much money. So I played and rambled around the Internet and my mind and realized–Toy Trains. I want this kid to be younger, to be pretty happy at home the way it is (of course that will change) and to be the kind of puttering little boy who likes to lay out the track and run the trains.

2. I did some research and found out that, yes, Virginia, there were model electric trains on the market by 1910 (close to my story’s year).

3. I checked my library and found plenty of books about model trains, specifically some cool-looking ones about the Lionel company. I put a couple of those books on hold.

4. The books came and I started reading about the company and the trains, for the relevant years.

5. I found out that 1) Electric toy trains were BIG. 2) Electric toy trains were EXPENSIVE. 3) Although Lionel mostly always did trains, they also came out with a Racing Automobile set in 1912.

6. I pretty much had these reactions: 1) Cool! 2) Hmm…maybe even Blech. 3) Aha!

7. I went back to my story with this information and made the following adjustments. 1) Abe does not have an electric train (the family is not THAT comfortably off), but he SO wants one. 2) He’s going to have some other train toys–probably clockwork ones that have been around, marketwise, for a while and (I think) were not as expensive. (Obviously, more research needed, and-yes-another book is on hold at the library). 3) Abe’s older brother Daniel has bought (unknown to the rest of the family) the Racing Automobile set for Abe’s birthday present. Which complicates things wonderfully, because Daniel bought the set BEFORE getting in a bad car accident himself and with money he really shouldn’t have, as far as his parents are concerned (also tied to cars and racing and gambling–ooh!). And how bad is Abe going to feel, do you think, playing with a toy race car when his brother is barely walking and may never get to drive an automobile again? Hmm? Hmm? 🙂

8. Made a note to myself to figure out the small plot problem this has created, which is that I have been planning that MC has a new camera that she received for HER birthday and, really, two birthdays as the cause in cause-and-effect is too many.

Threads and layers and twists. THIS is how research ties into story.


  1. Isn’t it fascinating where research can take you? I’m working on a historical novel, too and have also been making some interesting discoveries that have affected my plot. Thanks for sharing!


  2. I love when research helps me think of awesome plot points like that!


  3. nrhatch says:

    Love how you’re building up the layers ~ story, research, character development, more research, tweak the story, revisit the characters, etc.

    It’s going to be like a Smith Island Cake before you’re done.


  4. Thanks for sharing the path you’re going on. I am aiming to be down my first draft by the end of this year and start buckling down to revison in January. But i wasn’t thinking an entirely new draft! Yikes!! That sounds scary to me. I have a long list of items that I need to weave into what I’ve already written. Maybe that qualifies as a second draft? As an author, I am a work in progress!


  5. added this blog to my list of “required reading” for my clas this summer on “Creating a character.” (I’m culling your blog for appropriate posts!)


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