I spent last Sunday doing in-person research for the novel I am writing.
My task for the day was to visit the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. My novel includes scenes that take place in that setting. The protagonist is a student at the U, and has a significant link to the Bell Museum of Natural History. So I went there in person to figure out answers to questions such as:
What path would she take from a class, to the museum, to her home – in a snowstorm?
Where would she live off campus?
In the museum, which dioramas would she see, and how would she react to them?
Not only did I receive more clarity to these topics, but I soaked up the atmosphere of campus life, allowing myself to imagine the life of a student at the U of M in 1972. By the way, I actually was a student there, but this is not my story. As a writer, I was able to see this environment with fresh eyes.
Because my novel is set in the past, I often read books and do online research to answer my questions. But there is nothing like putting yourself in the actual setting (even if the events of your novel took place in years past) to feel your character’s sense of place. It creates a personal connection to the place and people who inhabit it in your novel.