Observational Research: How Exploring Helped Me Revise My Story

The fair is in town and I’ve been itching to go for a few weeks. This place is a huge slice of my childhood. My parents took my siblings and me to the fair every summer. We rode all the rides (at least the less fast, frightening, and high-up ones), won more stuffed animals than we needed, had rainbows and dolphins painted on our faces, and ate deep-fried everything. What more could a kid want?

I try to go every year, but wasn’t able to make it in 2014. So I’ve been determined this summer to set a date aside for some finger-lickin’, ride-screamin’, prize-winnin’ fun. The boyfriend and I finally made it to the fairgrounds this past weekend.

I was so consumed by childlike excitement that I didn’t realize how beneficial this escapade would be: I’ve been working on a PB manuscript set at a carnival. This would be the perfect chance for me to refresh my sensory memories of the fair and use them to revise my manuscript!

From the moment we entered, I took in the bright colors, the energy of the people, the smell of the barbecuing food, the sounds of games and children laughing, and the dizzying feeling of getting off of a ride. (Note to self: Don’t ride a highly vertical, spinning, jerking, and tumbling ride named “OMG” directly after eating fair food.) I loved every minute of it. And if you’re wondering, the leftmost photo in this post is a giant sand castle cake topped with different animals. While the outing was primarily for recreation (I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a pickle corn dog), it allowed me to conduct some observational research to help my carnival story feel more authentic.

Although carnivals and fairs differ, my experience has already helped me to improve my manuscript. The fair has helped me to beef up the nouns in my story. Why use “soda” when “lemonade” captures the essence of a carnival so perfectly? And why not swap out “fun house” for “mirror,” since most kids will get the implication, especially with illustrations? My weekend outing has also helped with my verb usage. I love thinking of creative verbs to use in my writing. Playful and less common verbs are more interesting than overly used verbs. (Of course, as long as you don’t get too carried away.) For example, when showing that my main character felt sick on a roller coaster, I swapped “got queasy” for “greened.”

Revising my manuscripts is my favorite part of the writing process, and I’m having a lot of fun with this story. People often say that the best way to learn a foreign language is to immerse yourself into it–in the country and in the culture. I think the same applies for writing. Immersing myself in the fair experience, even if just for a day, has helped with my narrative and character development.

Now back to revising and dreaming of pickle corn dogs!

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