Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How Far Would You Go in the Name of Research?

A few weeks ago a few fellow writers and I made our annual trek to the regional writers’ conference we attend every year. As usual, we came home with minds chock-full of useful tips and tidbits about advancing our writing careers.

I attended a very interesting session on capturing “aha!” moments led by a writer and forensic psychologist who is well-known in these parts for her subject matter (forensics, serial killers, ghosts, vampires, and essentially anything related to the dark side of human nature) and her researching methods. She’s a loyal practitioner of immersion research and has produced a number of interesting books as a result. She went “underground” with a group of modern-day vampires in order to learn about this subculture firsthand. She’s also gone ghost hunting with a group of paranormal investigators (yes, think Ghostbusters) and who knows what else.

Immersion research has always fascinated me. I’m expecting 2 books she recommended at the session: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean and The Mole People by Jennifer Toth, about New York’s other population—the folks who have established whole communities in the city’s subway tunnels and underground nooks and crannies –and I’m anxious to read both of them. It’s gotten me thinking. How far would I be willing to go in the name of research? I complete the majority of my assignments using the traditional methods. I’ll do a face-to-face interview if the subject is particularly interesting or if the story relies heavily on capturing the mood and/or tone of a place or experience, but I’ve certainly never gone ghost hunting or traveled into the depths of New York City to interview the city’s homeless population (not that I’d turn down either opportunity). I guess my limits would be if I’m asked to do anything that puts me in physical harm, if I must spend an exorbitant amount of money on the experience (and won’t be reimbursed), or if the subject matter just doesn’t feel right and I have an ethical objection to it. Otherwise, I like to think of myself as being pretty open-minded and if I’m offered the chance to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I think I’d be pretty agreeable to it.

What about you? How far would you go in the name of research?

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