Readers often think that fiction writers just make stuff up. And that’s quite true—when it comes to most stories and characters. However, the supporting details of settings, props, jobs, and plot events are another matter.
Whatever genre we write, we usually have to do some research in the course of drafting and revising our story. Those who write historical books obviously have to know the time period, but other genres can require us to go into research mode too.
Fantasy authors might need to research medieval weaponry or building methods. Science fiction authors research what’s theoretically possible. Authors of contemporary stories need to make places and events match reality, or at least seem real enough.
Anything we write about in any genre might require research: a setting we haven’t visited, a character’s career we haven’t shared, a plot event we haven’t witnessed, etc. Or even if we think we know something via “common knowledge,” we might want to check that our information is, in fact, accurate.
(Google really shouldn’t try to learn about writers through their online searches. I’m sure their results would show that I’m planning on buying a new car, exploding a house, and attending a funeral with unique traditions. The answer would be ‘no’ to all of those. My characters, however… *smile*)
I enjoy using my “Google Fu” to research online and learn new things, but I know other writers find research a pain. And sometimes, we can’t find the answers online.
When online research doesn’t cut it, we might have to do real world research by calling in an expert to help. Like most introverted writers, I hate talking on the phone to strangers. In my mind, cold-calling is somewhere up there with going to the dentist. Or worse.
This past weekend, I went one step further and did in-person research by *gasp* leaving the house. Okay, I’ll admit—it was actually kind of fun.
While my brother and his family were in town for Thanksgiving, we all went to the Phoenix Auto Show. I’m not a car person, so this activity would normally hold no appeal for me. However, I latched onto the benefit of being able to see all of my characters’ cars in person.
In particular, the hero of my current story wants a very specific car, and as he’s almost six-and-a-half feet tall, I had no idea if he would actually fit into this car. Online research was no help, so I was planning on bungling my way through the issue until this opportunity came up.
Okay, they had the same car at the Auto Show, now what? Oh look, that sales guy is tall. Really tall. Not quite as tall as my character, but within an inch or so.
Cue my random babbling while I ask him to sit in the car so I can see if he fits. Yay! He does fit—with a few inches to spare. My problem is solved.
So once I got over the burning embarrassment, it was rather entertaining. My family helped me out by kicking off the initial request. The sales guy played along, complete with goofy smiles as he got embarrassed. And I got the answer I needed.
I certainly won’t give up my safe and non-embarrassing online research methods anytime soon. But it’s nice to know that complete strangers often are willing to help answer our research questions when we need more information than Google can provide. (Thanks, Chris!) (And no, he looks nothing like the hero of this story.)
Do you like doing research for the opportunity to learn new things or do you avoid researching topics as much as possible? Do you prefer online, phone, or in-person research? What would your Google search history reveal? What’s the weirdest or most entertaining research you’ve done?
P.S. This past weekend I also crossed the 50K word count mark for my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, so I “win” NaNo. Yay! Now only 15K or so more to go to finish this story. *sigh*Pin It