The Gold in Research

Most writers of any kind know the importance of research. We don’t want to get that email that starts with “While I enjoyed your recent book, I think you’ll find…” and then explains the jeep we used in our story was never available in soft top, or that the device our protagonist depends upon would never have been available in southern Italy, but only northern. And you DO know it’s Grand Central Terminus? No? Oh dear…

Yeah. Those suck. But the cool part about research isn’t just making sure your character doesn’t address an emperor as Your Majesty. It’s the gems you find along the way, the little bits you didn’t even know you were looking for. I was working on a project where my protagonists took the train to Chicago in 1927. I researched the station to find out how it was laid out and found out that the way the stairs were gave me some great opportunities for character business that I wouldn’t have known if I thought the platforms were at street level.

Another example. I was listening to the stellar podcast Writing Excuses and their guest that week was astronaut Kjell Lindgren who talked about his experiences. One thing he mentioned was about space, how in photos of space we see blackness as two dimensional; it’s just black. But when you’re actually out there, the blackness has depth. Give it a listen; it’s worth it. The entire panel, as well as me and I suspect every listener who had even a moderate interest in sci-fi, horror, or anything where darkness or space was relevant, started taking notes of this evocative description. Expect a wide range of authors to suddenly get better at describing space in a very specific way…

The point is, research isn’t always about answering the big question. It’s also about all those little bits that take mundane writing to great. Get your antennae way up, and collect all those things that make your writing senses tingle. Even if they aren’t relevant for that particular work, save ’em. They’re gold.

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