Happy Sunday friends!
So I thought I’d talk a little about research today. Because without it, stories tend to be very flat and boring. But all too often, you find THAT story. One that pulls you out of the imaginary world it had hoped to create- all by just one glaring inaccuracy.
Now, I fully admit. There will be errors in story telling.
You find something on a site that tells you the water in the Bahamas is crystal blue- or you see a picture. And then you get an email or comment from someone who lives there and says its not crystal blue but turquoise. And you lost your reader right there.
So research. It’s important. Why?
Painting a picture. Building a place people can relate to is quintessential in the basis of storytelling.
It’s not just about the characters.
It’s providing them the history and the groundwork to live in.
So much trickier when you are writing about something you don’t know (which is why EVERY mentor in writing will tell you to WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW).
Enter the Amish.
A private society that doesn’t share a lot of their life to the outside world.
or National Geographic Channel. Don’t get me wrong, those are more useful tools than you might get from simply talking to your neighbor. But what you see on TV is not necessarily what the life of the Amish is all about. It’s still an outsider’s point of view.
My experience with the Amish is from an Outsiders POV as well. From my childhood. Childhood memories are often so romanticized that perhaps we never truly see what was there all along.
So I had very little to go on.
I started writing this story with little to go on, much like my character.
Kate Hill is just your average girl. She’s at an even greater disadvantage than I was because she was also from California. How many Amish live in California? (actually…. there is a small community here in Cali- but they’re Beachy Amish… an entire post in itself!)
So from Kate’s perspective- the Amish are these reserved Pioneer Days folks that speak weird and don’t use electricity.
The very typical stereotype.
And thus the reason for RESEARCH.
So I Googled.
Google is NOT the be all end all of research folks.
Google is leaps and bounds better than my underfunded local library, but it is also very misleading. Type in Amish and you get a million hits that take you to every site that mentions the Amish (congratulations! you will find this blog now on that Google Search!) But it sends you to sites that condemn the Amish, sites that confuse the Amish with the Mennonites, Amish dating sites (I kind you not). And then perhaps some legitimate research sites for the Amish.
NOT BY THE AMISH.
Because after all, the Amish don’t use the internet, right?
I found quickly that there were sites that only confused me more. Sites that contradicted themselves, and sites that seemed out to get the Amish. So hard to wade thru to determine who was right and who was just as ignorant as I was!
So early edits of the story had some glaring inaccuracies.
So I dug deeper- I chose sites that deal specifically with people that deal directly with the Amish: Amish America has been my favorite so far, with links to other good sites and first hand accounts by English folks who are close to their Amish neighbors.
Next I went to the University library and found hundreds of books on the Amish. Again, some of these seemed to judge the life of the Amish- being too patriarchal, stunting their young by pulling them from school too early. Condemning them for not paying into Social Security.
But I learned infinitely more.
And was confused by even more contradictions.
The long and the short of it?
A subject you want to write about needs to be researched- just expect to find many sides to that subject. In the end, I chose to use the fact that my Amish community are newer and more progressive than what the stereotype is ( so many people see the Pennsylvania or Indiana Amish and assume everyone is like that in the Amish communities, but not so).By allowing my group to be far removed from the Old Order, I could shape their laws to help with the storyline a little.
But it takes dedication and background to make it all believable. THAT, is where a writer must work hard to convince the reader, especially those that have some knowledge of the subject you write about. Have I made some glaring errors- no doubt I have. But I keep on researching, even after the manuscript is done.
You never know when you’ll find that cache of expert detail- just waiting for you!
Have a pleasant day all!