On writing; Doing Your Research

Okay, so you’ve established your pedigree with some well written short stories. You’ve practiced your authorial voice and it is both commanding and relatable. You’ve even dabbled in the grimoirs of grammar, the spell books of spellings and now you think you’ve got it all figured out.

That magnum opus is just tripping off your tongue to get out and spill across the blank page in front of you. You raise your hands high, bellow your demands to the winds of magic and call upon the leviathan beasts of the Never-Never to do your bidding. The sky boils with your arcane might, black clouds spinning into a vortex with you at its centre, your howls and entrees to the Gods-Below echoing across time and space. You recite the twelve names of Ashentor, the Being that eats the stomachs of Children. You call to Obanok, the tree god that dreams of murder and you beseech the wailing maiden, Bolani, to gather the spirits to your cause.

Then you explode.

What happened?

You done fucked up, that’s what happened. Maybe you mispronounced something. Maybe you got one of Ashentor’s names wrong or accidentally called Bolani a cunt. Whatever it was, you could probably have done with a bit more research before you started putting your filthy monkey words on paper.

Let’s start at the beginning; what sort of book are you writing? If you can narrow down the genre then you can narrow down the research you need to do. Let’s go with an example from licenced fiction for a moment; Star Wars. You might be able to tell your wookies from your ewoks, but there’s a lot of research you’ll need to do into the universe itself.

How does the force work, for example? How is it different from the magic that gets used? Has the science behind the various pieces of technology been explained to the audience? How much soft science is used to explain away various things? What happens when you cover Princess Leya in chocolate sauce… sorry getting away with myself there.

My point is; the place you are writing about, even though it may be a fictional place, will have universal laws and rules that you have to abide by. Warhammer 40k has very few universal mechanics (save gravity) that are the same as Star Wars. The Carebears have even less than that.

Also, whilst we’re on the topic of genre; what’s the industry standard? You’ll win no prizes by putting a high speed car chase in a Mills and Boon love triangle or a long and boring romance plot, filled with misspent emotions and hunky men called Julian in a Thriller. That’s because a lot of commercial fiction isn’t really interested in selling new stories to folks, rather it’s interested in selling old stories to everyone.

Double check anything from history or anything vaguely technical – I once earned the apoplexy inducing ire of a friend who read my description of upgrading a computer.

But great and wise saviour, where shall we find such information, you cry.

Oh, patience my children, daddies here. Now just sign the checks to me and make sure everything gets left to me in your will.

Anyway, your local library should be a good place to start if you want hard copies of anything like ordinance survey maps or memoirs. If you’re, you know, normal, you can always just go to Wikipedia. Good old Wiki, the bastion of our collected knowledge.

Now, let’s just make a quick digression. The cool intellectual power of the internet is neat and all, but it can’t give you the same emotional kick as handling the real thing or pouring over the notes of some trauma victim. Wiki, although it’s great, should not be your only source of information.

Whatever you’re researching you can find a happy medium in YouTube. There are tonnes of people there who can lecture and proselytize to you for ages with their videos. It has a little bit of everything. Unless what you want is hardcore fell walking porn. Then I’d recommend Xvideos or your local library.

But what about the other things, the little things. Hemmingway and Mamet both used to sit in cafes and listen to how people talked. You can do the same. Keep pen and paper within reach during all waking hours and note down all the interesting things you ever hear. I was once driving down the road and overheard some builders chatting. One said ‘Yeah, so I dumped a load of man squirt in her.’ One day I’ll use that in something and when someone says, ‘people don’t talk like that’ I’ll laugh and tell them about that builder.

That’s all I have to say for the moment, but that’s not all there is to say about researching your book. Let’s end on a high note; research can be fun and you’ll learn loads if you let your curiosity run wild. Of course you might burn your brain out chasing that one thing you really want to know.

Oh, shit, high note… Tits? Yeah, tits. Everyone loves tits.

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