Writing brings many surprises, from characters who begin to speak for themselves, to the time it can take to construct a scene, to plot twists I hadn’t envisioned but now can’t imagine the book without. But one surprise that just keeps on giving is how many things I need to know that are not in that handy well of background knowledge. As a rule, I try to avoid writing anything that requires much research. It’s not just the information-gathering that puts me off; it’s the idea that despite all the care I take to ensure that my information is accurate, I could still introduce some huge flaw and be forever discredited.
Such avoidance can only last so long, however. Shortly after I’d finished assigning most of my past careers to various characters and setting stories in most of the regions in which I’ve lived, I began to write, of all things, a book that’s loosely based in history. (Key word: Loosely. I still need that wiggle room.) Researching a shiny new career is one thing; building a whole Medievalish world is quite another.
For my various professions I’ve had to take several classes in research techniques, and although I’m not a master when it comes to digging up information, I know my way around Google, several online databases, libraries (Dewey decimal system and all), and your basic reference materials. Which is a good thing, since I recently found myself browsing a website on Medieval weaponry. This was quickly followed by searches for ways to communicate with horses, injuries to the frontal lobe of the brain, the layout of a typical castle, and bread recipes. And the research continues, all so that I can add about four words per subject to lend credibility to the book.
And amidst all this information gathering, the most important thing I’ve learned is this: research is not as scary or as boring as I’d thought. Sure, it’s daunting, and not as fun as writing, and when I’m in the middle of a scene and suddenly find myself desperate for a few obscure details about fabrics in the 1400s, it’s definitely a distraction. But it’s doable, and it can lead to some pretty amusing searches.
Which leads me to wonder…What are some of the weird things you’ve found yourself researching, either for your writing or otherwise? Ever read a book where the research was just plain wrong? (No author bashing, please! Everybody makes mistakes.)