4 Tips to Research Props and Parts in Stories

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In writing fiction, calling items by their official or common nicknames can make a difference to readers. Especially for those readers in the know. 

Tip 1

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Suppose you don’t know the name for the place to lay sheet music on a piano. Or you have no idea what those narrow water arms jutting out from the sides of lakes are called. Or what are the things pontoons float on? 

Diagrams are great for answering your questions.

Search Online:

  • Parts of a ________.
  • Diagram of a ________.

My diagrams informed me the place to lay sheet music is the music rack. Those lake “arms” are called creek channels. Pontoons float on tubes, also called floats.

It’s good to note secondary names so that you can mix up words in your paragraphs.

Tip 2

Suppose a character spends time in a special vehicle or a special place. I had a character who drove a 2012 Mustang. And another who owned a pontoon.

Photos of areas outside and inside help you know what’s available in these vehicles.

Search Online: 

image by rsoler616

I found an auto dealer who provided photos of a 2012 mustang. Photos were available of the outside from several angles, the trunk, and several views of the front and back areas inside. I could see the color of the interior and whether there was a console to store loose change or rest an elbow on. I could see where meters and radios were positioned on the dash. Also, the specs the dealer offered helped me see how much room my character had to store her suitcase and other items in her trunk.

Besides my diagram of a pontoon, a dealer’s aerial view photo of a pontoon gave me ideas for color, what the seats, table, storage, and even cupholders looked like.

image by StockSnap

Tip 3

If your character picks up or drops off people at an actual airport or uses one in your story, it may be important to know the location of such areas as:

  • Baggage claim
  • Check-in
  • Runways
  • Terminal building
  • Parking
  • Hangers
  • Control tower

Search Online: 

Most airports have diagrams of their setup. Also, some have pictures of restaurants and other areas. 

For example, North Carolina readers of a book that features scenes inside the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport will delight when the white rocking chairs placed throughout the terminals are mentioned.

Tip 4

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Be careful. If it’s obvious your character wouldn’t know the official name of an item, then she wouldn’t think it or say it. But having photos or diagrams may help your character come up with her name for it. 

When I’m on the lake, I call those creek channels lake fingers. I would call the music racks on a piano a music book stand. I might call a pontoon’s tubes what they are, big metal tubes or floats.

However, if your characters live on a lake, or have had piano lessons from a professional, or own a pontoon, they should call things by their official names or the nicknames professionals use.

What online techniques do you use to find the names of props and parts?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

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8 thoughts on “4 Tips to Research Props and Parts in Stories

  1. Great post, Zoe. I’ve also found Google Earth to be helpful, zooming in and “walking” around an area I don’t personally know. I can see what comes before and around the bridge in my scene,how far from the school,and what the playground looks like, all providing details that flesh out the scene, and sometimes even a plot twist.

     
     
    1. Excellent suggestion, Jane. Thanks!

       
       
  2. Great ideas and tips, Zoe and Jane! Thank you for this wonderful advice.

     
     
    1. You’re welcome, Patti. I use a lot of fictional settings near actual cities. I’ll use Jane’s Google Earth suggestion, when I can’t visit those actual cities.

       
       
      1. WOW. Zoe, what an excellent site. Thank you for suggesting Jane’s Google Earth. I used to live in Salisbury, England so used that as a test run to check it out. I absolutely love the 3D imagery of streets and buildings I know so well. I will definitely make use of this site for my settings.

         
         
        1. Thanks for your comment on using the Salisbury, England test, Susan. I’m itching to use Jane’s Google Earth suggestion on my next book which takes place in several spots around the world.

           
           
  3. Thank you for suggesting using “diagrams” as a search parameter. I had never thought of that. And, since I’m such a perfectionist, I forget not everyone cares about or uses the correct term for things so it’s ok to say a descriptive word a non-expert would use.

    Recently, I had a scene I’m working on where I needed smaller birds to chase away the attacking ravens. Fortunately, I was able to go to Audubon Society and confirm that my favorite, Redwing Blackbirds, not only will mob a raven, but have a particular mobbing call to bring others to help chase it away!

     
     
    1. Susan, having lots of redwing blackbirds where I live, I loved how you found exactly what you needed for your story in them. Every time I see a redwing blackbird, I’ll picture it being part of a mob!

       
       

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