Friday, September 9, 2011

Developing Characters Through Research, by Lilly Gayle

I'm very pleased to welcome
guest author
Lilly Gayle
to the blog today!

Lilly's got some great books, cool pictures, and interesting thoughts on writing and researching to share today. Take it away, Lilly:

I’m not much of a plotter. I usually know how I want my story to begin and end. So, I start by typing up a few notes with important details or events I need to occur within the story. Then I flesh out my characters on another page, assigning them physical characteristics and personality traits. For the main characters, I jot down some backstory info. Then, I start writing.

But, then I get to the middle of the story and that’s where I run into problems if I didn’t also take the time to do a little research BEFORE starting.

When writing Out of the Darkness, my paranormal romance, I knew I wanted to combine a vampire story with the light sensitivity disorder, xeroderma pigmentosum (XP.) And, I knew I wanted my vampire to hate his dark nature and search for a cure. That’s when I got the idea for Dr. Megan Harper. So, not only did I have to research vampire myths and legends, I also had to research XP and microbiology. I have a bachelor of applied science degree in radiology, and I took microbiology in school, but I’d never been in a real lab setting.  So, I had to research lab protocols, equipment, and regulations. It took some doing, but the results were worth it. There’s an “almost” believable scientific quality to the story. And because of my research into XP and biotechnology, Megan’s character has stronger motives and a more clear-cut goal for helping Vincent find his cure.

When I began writing Slightly Tarnished, my historical romance released  June 3, the research came first.
I knew I wanted to write a historical. It’s one of my favorite genres.  I also knew I wanted to write a Victorian romance rather than Regency. But most of the romance novels I’ve read are set in Regency England.  I needed information on Victorian England. And being a twentieth century kind of gal, I was curious about the whole bathroom situation during that time. So, I began researching the toilets and sewers of England and found several articles on The Great Stink. Throw in a few articles on Charles Dickens’ England and I had a story idea.

Slightly Tarnished isn’t the original name of the book and Nikki’s character was originally going to be from New Bern, NC instead of Portsmouth Island. But I never got her goals or motivation right.

Editors and agents thought Nikki lacked strong goals and motivation. There were no complaints about Chad. And maybe that was because I did so much research on England. I delved deeper into his backstory so I knew what made him tick. But what motivated Nikki?

It was time to do a little more research. And I started with the North Carolina coast.

If you know where to look, there’s a lot of information on North Carolina’s coastal communities during the nineteenth century. I live in North Carolina and love the coast, so my husband and I took a few road trips during the re-researching phase of Slightly Tarnished.  We visited the historic waterfronts of Morehead City and Beaufort, and went to the Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Then, we took the ferry to Portsmouth Island.

Portsmouth Island is one of the barrier Islands of North Carolina on Core Banks.  The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is located on the south end of the island and far on the north end, near Ocracoke Island, is Portsmouth Village.

Once a thriving shipping village, a devastating hurricane shoaled Ocracoke Inlet in 1846 opening a deeper inlet in Hatteras. Afterwards, Portsmouth Village became a lightering station where draft boats carried cargo from the heavier ships inland for transportation to the mainland. Then in 1860, many residents fled the island when Union troops marched on the Outer Banks.  They never returned.

Today, Portsmouth Village is a state historic site and many of the original buildings still stand. Walking through the village is like stepping back in time, and it gave me a believable backstory for my heroine Nikki. From there, I was able to create a character with better goals, stronger motivations, and increase the conflict between her and Chad.

Most of my research never made it into the story, but because it was part of Nikki’s backstory, it made her a more sympathetic and believable character.
  • As a writer, what kind of research do you do, and how has it helped you develop your characters?
  • As a reader, what do you think makes a character more believable in a story?
Thanks for reading,
Lilly Gayle
Author of paranormal and historical romance: Where love is an adventure no matter the century
Find Lilly on the Web:

Thanks for visiting today, Lilly! Everyone, leave Lilly some comment love and let her know what you think! As always, thanks for reading,


Laura Kaye said...

Welcome to the blog, Lilly! Great post!

My research has varied from book to book, but because I'm a historian, I really enjoy linking my characters' backstory to real historical events, and that requires research. The best example of this is in FOREVER FREED, where I conducted significant research into the colonial history of Detroit to establish the worldbuilding and the villains' backstory. And I DO think it made a difference in the believability and authenticity of the story.

Thanks, Lilly!

C.S. Maxwell said...

LOVE this blog interview. And Yahoo for the gals from NC--I was born and raised in Jacksonville, NC and love the coastal towns along there. I miss them. I would love to write a story that takes place in Topsail Island, where I grew up. Thanks for sharing.

PaigeTurner said...

Great post! I always enjoy reading how other writers develop their stories and ideas!
Beth W.

Lilly Gayle said...

Thanks so much for having me on your blog today. Your blog is great. Love the layout. And congratulations on all the great reviews Forever Freed and Hearts in Darkness are receiving. These books are def. on my TBR list!

I love Jacksonville and that whole area of NC. Beautiful rivers, inland waterways, and so close to the ocean. The air just smells cleaner there. I've never been to Topsail Island. Been to Carolina & Writesville Beaches, but I mostly stick to the Crystal Coast.

Thanks so much for stopping by. And make plans to go back home next summer. Where ever you are now, it'll be worth the drive/flight.

Lilly Gayle said...

So do I Paige. Writing is a learning process that never ends.

Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Lilly and Laura - Well, you've written another fascinating blog, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I have been to North Carolina once, but my husband I want to return and do much more exploring. From what I've seen, it is a beautiful state. (All of our states are pretty in one way or another, right?)
I think what makes a character believable for me is solid conflict. The characters need a deep reason for never being able to commit to another person - then they have to meet the person of their dreams and do battle with all they need to overcome in order to let themselves fall in love. All the great research on places and things is an added bonus once the author nails the conflict.

rbooth43 said...

I love Lilly's books. What a great writer she is! Great Post and blog! I am a North Carolina native that loves the beach, the piedmont and the mountains!
Thanks Laura Kaye!

Laura Kaye said...

That's a really great point, Lynne!

Thanks for all the good comments everyone!

Lilly Gayle said...

Thanks for the compliment, Becky. My most recent trip to the mountains was for a funeral. So, it doesn't count. I'm hoping to fit a mountain get-away into my schedule this fall.

Lynne, I agree. Without conflict, there's nothing stopping our characters from getting together in Chapter 3. lol! Coming up with an external conflict to throw at the H/H is sometimes easy. The internal conflict is a bit trickier. I think it goes hand in had with the goals and motivation of the characters. What do they want? Why do they want it? And what's stopping them from getting it? External conflicts and roadblocks can be removed. It's resolution of those internal conflicts that lead to character growth and a satisfying HEA.

Mimi B said...

Oh Lilly,
you make me ashamed of myself. My research is so little and I guess since I'm rather lazy, that's how I like it. But I have to admit to loving a story that has depth and is written in a believable way so one knows that the author has researched her subject or is lucky enough to have the knowledge.
I've stored your career background in my memory banks in case I ever need to ask questions in a future book pertaining to your line of expertise.
Good luck with this wonderful book!

Lilly Gayle said...

I wish I could write without researching. The one time I tried to write a book by using "stuff" I already knew, was when I wrote a romantic suspense and made the heroine an x-ray technologist. The book read like a radiology text book. It was awful.

I envy those who don't need to research! And I'm no expert by any means. My last few blog posts whether on my blog or as a visitor have all somehow pertained to plotting because I am currently having a tough time with plotting my current WIP. I'm hoping if I keep talking about it, I'll tech myself something. lol!