Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, has been quoted as saying, “A writer is a world trapped in a person.” Hugo’s quote may underscore the challenge, time, commitment, imagination and research involved in writing a book. The very act of writing a book can take on a life of its own in a writer’s mind.
Surprisingly, writing a novel or work of fiction (non-factual) requires some considerable research. And where else can one delve into the depths of research, but the library of course!
Some people may think the Internet makes the research process easy. Not so, writes Andy Weir, author of the science-fiction novel The Martian. According to an article he wrote for Publisher’s Weekly, How to Research Like a Writer, when he first looked up the atmospheric pressure of Mars, he “found a website that massively approximated that value to 1%” (of the Earth’s pressure). Scientifically, Mars’s atmosphere is 0.6% of the Earth’s pressure. This fact could be found in a reliable library source, such as a scientific textbook or database. Weir quickly discovered that the Internet is not so reliable, especially when it comes to researching scientific details. Worse yet, errors in a scientific novel could make a knowledgeable reader give the book an unfavorable review. The fictional reality and facts no doubt gave The Martian the momentum to become a movie!
Research is of utmost importance when it comes to historical fiction. According to Beverly Jenkins, author of more than 30 romance novels, she immerses herself “in the period – paying close attention to speech patterns, vocabulary and current events.” Her novels are set in times and places such as the Old West, post-slavery and the Jim Crow past and current climates. Not only does she travel to historical places, but she also relies heavily on letters, diary excerpts and the work of historical scholars and another great resource, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon.
A series of fantasy novels by Bordentown Library’s Writers Group facilitator Kellie Zottman entailed research even though the fantasy book, Consumed, originated in her imagination. She needed to research descriptions and expressions to make the characters come alive. Perhaps she also researched animal behavior since the book features a wolf and a character tapping into “animal communication.”
Writing poetry also takes on a life of its own. A poet would benefit from reading others’ poetry and studying types of poetry. For instance, the book 12 Great Tips on Writing Poetry introduces poetic forms. Check out our database Bloom’s Literary Reference for a plethora of poets and poetry analysis.
That leads us to November being National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. Freelance writer Chris Baty started the project in July 1999 with 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2000, it was moved to November "to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather." The goal is to write a novel in a month! The NaNoWriMo event and website offers peer and author feedback.
The Burlington County Library System also features writing events, such as the upcoming Writers Group meeting on November 14 at 7 pm at the Bordentown Library. And in January, the Maple Shade Library will offer Journal Writing: New Year’s Resolutions.
So, why not try your hand at writing that great novel? BCLS has lots of resources available and library staff are ready to help!