I recently had a writing judge tell me that my story was not plausible because it was illegal to sell the products my heroine was selling in Alabama. The products? Sex toys. Yup. You've got it. It's illegal to sell them in Alabama. The judge very kindly pointed out to me that it was easy enough to research this by Googling the state and finding the laws (which she apparently had time to do because the judge definitely checked it to tell me so). Wow? Really? It's illegal to sell sex toys in Alabama? There goes my story!
Oh tragedy. The entire book must be trashed. However, I know something that the judge didn't know: I live in Alabama. There is a sex shop next to my favorite hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant, and you can bet your sweet petunia there aren't just negligees in that store. There are "medical devices."
No big deal. She (I assume my judge was a 'she') did help me with her comment because even though I knew about the ways around the little blue law in Alabama, I had failed to include what I knew in my head on the pages I had sent. So I quickly added a line about "medical devices" and how sex toys can be purchased online on the Internet into the manuscript. And Voila! Problem solved. I was actually quite grateful to her for taking the time to google my story and check my facts (as a judge myself I am rather lax because I just read for quality of story and writing--I don't have time to google the entries' story elements for research clarification).
In another section she also pointed out that my scene set in the shooting range was way off base because of her personal experience. There was no way my two guys could possibly have a conversation. However, based on my personal experience and research, I knew that a conversation was more than possible in an indoor shooting range. I could easily disregard that well-meaning comment because I had researched this myself in person.
So what is better? Personal experience as you research your stories, the google bar, or the library? I think a combination of all three are necessary. Frankly, I can't personally research every aspect of my stories if they are set in areas where I don't live. And I do believe that anything, from cake-making to shooting a gun, can be researched online or in a library.
But it is so much more exciting to learn about things first hand. I really enjoyed going to the cake decorator's house a few years ago to learn about cake decorating. I used that information and several of her colloquialisms in my book, THE TYCOON'S SWEET TEMPTATION. It made the experience more real, impacted the quality of my story and my writing. It even gave me a fun name for my heroine's show. I tweaked my research lady's name for her company and came up with a cute name for the show. That was cool. I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't experienced cake decorating first hand.
I also enjoyed going to the radio station and watching the radio hosts work. I learned a lot had changed in the industry since I had left radio to become a mother. I immediately incorporated the information into my current manuscript, FORBIDDEN FANTASY. The knowledge strengthened my writing and my confidence in my story.
I'm discovering a new story right now. It's an old one that I've hacked into and decided to give a brand new plot. I've got a bad boy rock star, a wonderful feisty social worker (or a parole officer LOL) and it's set in North Carolina (cause apparently Canadian settings don't sell???). I've already got reams of information about their houses from the Internet, the music industry in general as well as tons of stuff about dancing (not sharing more than this till my story is written).
Now all I need is for a rock star to let me watch him work while I take notes. Any suggestions? I can think of quite a few I'd like to follow around for a day.