Writers never really stop working. Even vacations are an opportunity to research a new locale. When I travel, I take a lot of notes and photos in case I want to use the location in a future work of fiction. Maybe a character will hail from that city or perhaps I'll want to set a portion of the action there.
A recent trip to Portland, Oregon gave me an opportunity for research. Here were the questions I asked myself:
- What makes this destination unique? How do I create a sense of place?
- What's quirky or whimsical?
- What do the residents look like? How do they dress? What do they sound like? Taking mass transit or people-watching from a park bench can help answer these questions.
- How do residents feel about the place? What brought them there?
- Look at place names. What's colorful? What resonates with you? Children's author Beverly Cleary chose Portland's Klickitat Street for where her characters lived because it reminded her of "the sound of knitting needles."
- How about the history? How does the past affect the present here?
- What's the weather like? I keep a log. It may seem silly, but someday knowing whether it's typically windy in mid-April may be crucial to the plot. A weather log also helps me create concrete sensory details about a place.
- What does it look like? I take many photos of architecture and the local flora and fauna rather than trusting my memory later.
- What's the food like? This is the fun part. Research requires me to indulge!