That about sums up my week to date. I’m due to do some exciting and eventful things by the end of the month, including a trip abroad and attending a best buddy’s wedding, so my naturally nervous brain is refusing to settle on any one thing at a time right now.
As a result, even as I write this I have three separate writing projects open, two pieces of art on the go, and research tabs open for every single one of them.
For my next short story, Archaeon, I have open research on antiquarians, Cleveland Bay horses and women in journalism from the 1800’s.
For Aether’s Source, I currently have open two tabs about health risks in icy water as well as one to do with how disputes in international waters are handled.
For The Meaning of Power, I have war doctrines of the first world war, schematics of early machine guns and elephant training all open to read over.
For my art, I have open four separate tabs with image references for common species of deer, eagle wings, and geese. The final tab is of a dated map of Arabia.
The Point of Research
This might seem like a really really really obvious thing to talk about, and not needed. I mean, research to get things accurate is a good thing all the time, right? There’s no need to go into the weeds with it.
Except… is that the case?
There is a lot to be said for letting fun, drama, and creativity wrest control from realism in a lot of works. We never see characters go to the bathroom because that’s usually not going to move the plot forward and we don’t need to waste time on it. We rarely see characters hung over, having a bad headache day, or mundanely doing the laundry unless those elements are pertinent to character or plot development. We don’t watch our hero spending two years swotting up on a subject in school to know the one thing he needs to in order to defeat his arch enemy. We don’t get given lectures on the properties of onyx when characters go to the jewelry store.
Generally, stories show the reader the most exciting bits of a characters life, not the dull bits.
One of the biggest culprits I can think of in modern times for lack of research and realism are the medical and crime dramas on TV.
Don’t get me wrong – I love some of these shows and recognize how enjoyable they are, but they really don’t show how the law system really works, how medical procedures are actually decided on and carried out, and never ever the truth about who does what in a criminal investigation.
They don’t need to, and most of those shows aren’t really about the crime, the hospital, the investigation or the procedure… they’re about the characters. Personable doctors and gritty cops. Quirky scientists and troubled prodigy nurses. It’s about the people, and that’s ok.
So, if I’m saying research is not needed in great storytelling, why does anyone do any research, why do I myself have open more tabs than is sensible for one internet browser?
Because sometimes accuracy is the drama or the development. Sometimes, showing something real makes the story more whole and more gritty too. Sometimes, researching something interesting and putting it in your work just makes things cooler.
Research for Fun
I know I’m a bit weird. I’m a bit weird in many more ways than one, in fact.
Specifically, though, I’m referring to my weirdness growing up. I never liked soap operas, I managed to keep up with one, maybe two cult hits for my age group on TV (I’m looking at you, ‘Buffy’), and beyond that… I watched documentaries.
I absolutely loved documentaries and I still do. I like knowing things. I’m no specialist in any field, but I like to think I know a fair portion about a lot of topics, and I find so many things in the world fascinating.
I love learning how animals socialize, why bruises turn green, what Pluto’s surface looks like and where gnats come from.
Whatever I’m doing, be it gaming or writing or drawing or housework, there is usually a documentary playing in the background. On relaxed days, when I have the time to go looking, I love to find unusual or comedic documentaries.
I cannot stress enough the genius of Terry Jones. Not only was he hilarious as a member of Monty Python, but his documentaries on everything from ancient Egypt to the history of numbers to the first road atlas of Britain are all fun, informative and brilliantly presented.
This is my research.
Background knowledge I listen to for fun, that informs and directs what I want to share with the world. All it takes is one line from a program to make me go ‘I wonder if…’ and start some more detailed research on a topic. Inevitably, it turns up in my writing somewhere. I am terribly distractable by interesting topics and can get lost in ‘wiki-walks’ for hours.
And it helped Hevna come into being.
I think volcanoes are ludicrously cool. I’m kind of still 10 years old about awesome things. Dinosaurs? Sign me up! Earthquakes? Tell me all about it! New space discovery? Do you have any video of it yet?
I decided early on my initial forays into writing would be about the thing I found coolest at the time – volcanoes. I was on a major binge for everything from Pompeii to the 1980’s eruption of Mount St Helens to the most recent event at Eyjafjallajokull.
Two years later, I have over two books worth of story born from that, and I’m very hopeful that when the story is finished, the matters surrounding the volcano will be mostly accurate to real life and might just educate someone reading it about volcanology, at least a little.
And that’s what it all comes down to for me – it’s not about being accurate for its own sake. It’s not about bowing to pressure to make everything people ever write be about ‘the human experience’, or events completely true to life as symbolism for the ‘human condition’ in some way.
Neither is it about ignoring research for just rule of cool or drama when it comes to a topic I actually know about.
It’s about imparting what I think is cool in the world to other people, in the hope they might find it as interesting as I do. I hope people might learn something, either about the world or themselves, from my writing, but most of all I hope to give enjoyment, from my own reservoir of interest.
Books let authors reach out through time and space to let other people see inside their heads, share an idea. That is what drives me to research the things I write about. The world is full of really awesome stuff, you guys, and I want you to love it as much as I do. And if I can make all that cool stuff factual as well as fun, so much the better!