Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Research

When you tell someone that you write fiction, occasionally (but more often than one might expect) one of two extreme assumptions are voiced:  

1.) The writer sat down at the computer and made up the whole thing without having to deal with any pesky research.
2.) The story is a true one that the writer somehow got someone to tell them and then changed just a few details. (This one tends to be voiced to people writing straight mysteries and such--not so much to fantasy authors.)

Both of these extremes are amusing because while I'm sure there are some writers out there who do no research whatsoever, I've never personally met one. On the other extreme, well, that one is obvious--we'd call it non-fiction if that were true.

Even in fantasy, there is a happy medium between making stuff up and knowing how things work. This covers everything from you have to know how the rules work before you break them, to the fact the reader needs to be grounded in certain realistic facts to accept the more fantastical. Research could be on anything from anatomy and physiology to the development of certain cultures and civilizations to the layout of a city or building.

My personal research is all over the place. I'm sure my library holds and internet searches have me on some sort of government watch list. My family understands at least--after all, how many people can say her grandparents gave her a guide to poisons for Christmas (and no one else in the room think this is the least bit strange)?

Books and the internet are great sources for information, but often you can talk to someone with experience--it is amazing how many doors will open if you mention you are writing a book and of course are friendly and polite. And once in a while, you can get first hand experience (when appropriate).

This weekend I'm going to get the opportunity to both go directly to sources and get some first hand experience so I can collect and catalog my own impressions. Doing what, you may ask? Well, working with the Boys in Blue (you know, that saying doesn't make much sense anymore--most of the cops around here wear black uniforms.) I will be attending the Writers' Police Academy this weekend for a three day, hands-on, interactive experience geared toward helping writers "enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement and forensics." I can't wait!

Today's questions: If you're a writer, what is the most interesting research you've ever undertaken? Readers, what is something you're familiar with that you think is unique or intriguing that you'd like to share? (Some small fact or bit of trivia?)

Have a great day everyone! Tomorrow's blog post will be a special reappearance of a classic post from the archives--one with pictures! Now I have to figure out what to pack for this weekend. . .


j. said...

Good post, Kalayna, on a topic that most readers probably don't fully attribute to the creators of their fiction. I've run the gamut with my due diligence as well: learning everything from how to tear down a motorcycle to the status of the local police force on the Gulf Islands in 1974. It's all a hidden (but important) aspect of creating a vital, throbbing world on the page.

Jason McIntyre

purpleprose 78 said...

I have an insane amount of history books in my house. I am working on acquiring an equally large collection of other types of books. Research. Research. Research. It is a necessary tool to make your books feel real.

So I seem to recall a night where a few of us were trying to figure out how a person that was tied up could pull a knife out of her boot. This resulted in three people on the floor pretending to be tied up trying to reach their footwear. The result of that little research fiasco was that Leila concealed a knife in her bracelet. Not her boot.