Monday, January 19, 2009

Looking at the Flip Side

Yesterday, I discovered something new about myself.

I've always told people I hate doing research. I thought it was true. I know other novelists who set their books in real locations and do meticulous research - even traveling around the world - to make sure that every single nuance of their books is accurate, from the names of streets and restaurants to the way their characters talk and dress. Just thinking about having to do all that work makes me tired.

And yet, I’m not a lazy person. Far from it. So, why do I hate doing research?

Yesterday, I had an epiphany. It’s not so much that I dislike doing research as it is that I like creating new worlds. And I realized that every one of my novels is in its own world in some way or another.

My four Circle of Friends novels are set in a small town in the prairies I named “Wallace,” not unlike the towns in Manitoba and Saskatchewan where I grew up in and taught school. It isn’t any of those towns, but it has little aspects of each in it because I know how it feels to live in a small town.

I had great fun creating Wallace - deciding where Main Street would be and where the school would be and where each of my characters would live; figuring out where the highway would be, and so forth. I drew it all out on a piece of Bristol board, creating my own map. Later, I found the map very helpful in unexpected ways. Just looking at it, picturing what the town would look like if it was real, gave me additional ideas for the plots.

In Time of Trouble is set in the suburbs of a city, but I never use the name of the city. It’s a bit like Toronto, but not really. In a way, it could be any city. All I know is that I see it in my head as I wrote. I see the characters driving or walking on the streets. I see the house they live in. The image of Shane in the playground leaning against the swings is particularly strong. I not only see it, but I can smell the air and feel the coldness of the metal pole and the falling snow.

The Manziuk and Ryan mysteries are set in Toronto, but it’s a mythical Toronto. I give the police jurisdiction over the entire area, and ignore a lot of the red tape that would hamper a real police investigation. That's because my focus is on the character and the plot, and I'm not trying to give a picture of a realistic Toronto police investigation. At the same time, I did do a lot of research on forensics and other relevant aspects of the plot and the people involved. While working on Shaded Light, I had fun creating an estate that used to be owned by a mafia family. I had a ball when writing Glitter of Diamonds, creating my own baseball dome and team and a sports radio station.

But what made me realized I love creating worlds is that I recently wrote a children’s fantasy, The Misadventures and Tribulations of Princess Persnickety. For that book, I got to create everything – a whole new planet, the kind of beings who live there, all the lands and cities and vegetation and everything. And doing that was very, very cool.

And the funny thing is, I actually did a ton of research in order to create a logical, interesting new world.

So I'm no longer going to consider myself someone who hates doing research. Instead, I now know that I’m really someone who loves to create new worlds. And I can't wait to create more.

Hmm. I wonder how many of my other weaknesses are actually strengths if looked at from the other side?

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. blogs on life at

N. J. blogs on writing at

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Your piece left me smiling.
The self-discovery you describe reflected, for me, the playful glee of a child who loves to explore, discover, and create new things, rather than get bogged down with superfluous facts (something to which I'm rather prone), while incorporating sufficient factual info for authenticity.

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