This past Saturday, my husband and I took our two children to Decatur’s annual Touch the Truck. A normally vacant lot overflowed with tow trucks, fire trucks, police cars, an ambulance, and the crowd favorite, the SWAT mobile, which was the size of a moving truck and included everything such as a kitchen sink and two flat screen TVs. A three-year-old boy’s paradise. A SWAT team member placed his black tactical vest upon my son. It swallowed the boy and was so heavy that it might as well have been an elephant – but with the strong man’s hands holding it gingerly in place, it was a perfect fit in the toddler’s mind. We then topped my son’s noggin with the helmet that nearly covered his lips. The boy giggled and made his “I mean business” face as he drifted off to his imaginary land where he is the defender of good against evil sock monsters and three headed broccoli ninjas.
As his eyes stopped seeing the real world, I began to take note. Why, this is a writer’s paradise as well! (Especially crime, mystery, and other death-wielding writers.) My mental notebook came out as I explored the workings of a police car, questioned the number of people that could fit in the SWAT armed vehicle, and discovered the gadgets found in the back end of an ambulance. I was surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and professionals who were eager to answer questions, - and blessed with two inquisitive children, who I fed more questions to. Hey, it’s cuter when the seven-year-old asks how the computer inside a police car works and what does this button do, and that one and this one and so on. Without this trip, I wouldn’t have known that the backseat of a police car is made of an unforgiving grey plastic or that the storage bins in an ambulance came directly from Target and match the ones that I have at home. All facts that add realism to a scene.
The truth is – it is all research. Everything we as writers do, see and feel can be stored in our mental databases and extracted for future use. Every time our heart is broken – it is research. When we fall in love – research. A broken copy machine – research. A sip of wine crosses our palette – yep, you guessed it – research.
The trick is being aware. Opening your senses – all of them – to the world around you. Taking it all in and filing it all away. Inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Life is filled with scenes; all we have to do is record them and play them back with our own spin. The world is our oyster, and as writers, we have the God granted talent of being able to turn every grain of sand into a pearl.
How do you use the world around you? What grains of sand have you transformed into a pearl? Do you keep a notebook on you at all times, or do you lock it away in your mental database?