Saturday, September 29, 2018

Field Trips Aren't Just For Kids!

By Charlotte Bennardo

When I was in school, I loved field trips (well, except if it was to a museum filled with stuffed, dead animals). Out of class for the day, no homework that night, you could sit with your friend and talk on the bus the whole way there. What was not to love?

Photo courtesy of Pexels

I still take field trips. For a while I chaperoned my sons' field trips and now that they're grown, I go on my own. As an author, I need to get a 'feel' for a place, or collect some information to write some stories. I have a time travel novel, and it opens up with a 15-year-old boy working as a blacksmith during King Arthur's time. So, where am I going to find a blacksmith to question? At the New York Renaissance Faire. It's almost like walking back several centuries when you look at some of the craftsmen and wares. The gentleman was dirtied with soot, had beefy arms from swinging his heavy hammer on the hot metal, and wore clothes that my young blacksmith might have worn; knitted 'stockings', a leather vest, and a muslin shirt. These details helped me describe my character in believable detail. (Alas, I forgot my cell and didn't get a pic... maybe next year.)

Another field trip is the Hacklebarney park. There are waterfalls and pristine woods (except for some picnic tables). I can see mushrooms and toadstools, hear deer picking their way through the fallen leaves, and put my hand in the icy stream. All these details, which are not in my backyard, help me to give my stories depth and make the reader feel like they are there, in the story.

One writer friend, Alison Ashley Formento, wrote These Bees Count! For her research, she visited and talked with the official White House beekeeper in Washington, D.C. (Betcha didn't know there was an official beekeeper- well neither did I!)

I wish I could travel to the space station to gather background research for my sci fi novel, but sadly, not yet. I did, however, travel to NYC to do research for the Sirenz books. When a novel takes place on actual city streets, you have to make sure you get the details right: is Central Park the next block over? Is this a one-way street? Am I in the Fashion District or Little Italy?

Even when I can't travel to places for research, like Rome where Blonde OPS takes place (really, I think the publisher should have sent me there...) I did a 'virtual' field trip. Using Google Earth, I could travel down the main thoroughfares or meander through side streets and alleys, seeing houses and businesses as they really are. This gives authenticity. It's embarrassing when a reader points out a mistake in your writing because they've been to the place and you've described it all wrong.

I think it's time for another field trip. I'll have to think of a place I'd like to go and make up the story when I get there.

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