The lovely spring days are turning to summer, and we Quills are turning our attentions to the topic for this month, namely, what research do we do when writing, and how?
Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has thoughts to share with you . . .
"My name is Robin and I am a member of Researchers Anonymous…”
I blame it on my mother. I read a lot when I was a little girl. When I’d come across a word I didn’t know, I’d ask Mom what it meant. She invariably sent me to the dictionary.
A hundred years later (okay, not quite a hundred…) I find myself somewhat suspicious of her motivations. Did she actually (sometimes) not know the definition? Or was that just her way of making me an independent, curious wordie?
Either way, what happened was an addiction…
Read more here.
And here are my thoughts . . .
Every now and again I read a work with a glaring error that leaves me gritting my teeth. I recall one some time ago that mentioned a “sale” on a luxury item that I know well. You see, the item is one I would call my . . . vice. So I know the entire product line well—and I know that it is never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, on sale. Ever. There are no holiday sales, no back to school sales, no Mother’s Day sales—none. Ever. (Did I say “ever?”) Consequently, when I read the material, I had to call the author on it. If she was going to write about something of which she didn’t know, then she had to do her research. You know what? She was ever so grateful for the “head’s up.”
When we write, readers will allow us great flexibility—especially when we write fantasy. After all, the worlds we create are exactly what they say they are. But readers will most easily connect to the fantasy worlds we create if they share features in common with the “real” world. So, if the author’s story includes birds, and he mentions some minute characteristic of a bird’s wing—it would be wise for him to name that part correctly. Likewise, if he mentions a horse, a sword, or a plant, he will want to be certain he uses the correct jargon. These are just some of the many questions I’ve popped in as search queries of late.
In days of old, authors had to take notes of things that they would later go to a library to research. I can’t imagine how they kept things straight because I research constantly while I write. I am fortunate to have the Internet at my fingertips. And so it is that I always have a search window open on my desktop so that I can instantly seek the answer to any question I may have. Recently, I was looking for traditional herbs known to cause illness or even death. A quick search brought me many options—but they were not all equal. Would death be instant, or prolonged? Would it matter how much poison the character ingested? How would the victim react? Would his respiratory system fail? Would he foam at the mouth? Would his body jerk involuntarily? For my purposes, I needed to find a poison that would cause particular reactions. Sure, given that I was writing fantasy, I could have made one up—and I’ve done so—but if I was going to mention a real-world thing, I had to get it right.
There are also continual grammatical issues to review. For example, I confess that every time I use a form of either the verb, “to lay” (to put something down), or “to lie” (to rest or recline), I check with the grammar experts. I want to be certain . . .
These are just a few of the many examples of things an author researches on a regular basis.
How about you? How do you handle your research? Please share with us!