Tag Archives: information

Authors Answer 106 – What Authors Learn

Authors do a lot of research. They need to learn a lot of things when they’re writing about something that they don’t know a lot about. However, authors don’t just learn from research. They can learn from experience and it’s not always about any subject. It could be about themselves or their craft.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 106 – What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned while writing, whether from experience or research?

Elizabeth Rhodes

For Jasper I looked up the culture and citizen mentality of North Korea. It may seem a little far-fetched to apply a foreign country’s ideals to an American city, but I wanted to get a feel for that kind of regime. I found someone’s travel journal from when they were a tourist in North Korea, and found it fascinating. I hesitate to compare the experience to a comedy film like The Interview, but the scenes that showed their tourism industry being a complete façade definitely rang true.

Cyrus Keith

Without resorting to the “I’ve suffered for my craft; now it’s your turn” school of thought, I must say Some of the most interesting things I’ve learned had to do with matter-to-energy conversion in relation to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and the practical application of the formula E=MC2.

I can already see some of y’all’s eyes misting over, so I’ll spare the deep details. But suffice to say, it has to do with the conversion of matter to its basic form of energy, and the release of that energy in the form of heat and radiation.

On another note, I found out much about the structure of a Roman-ear legion, the weapons and tactics of its time, and the general culture of authority of the time. That, of course was for another book, which to be honest has to be started over.

Gregory S. Close

I’ve learned a lot through research for writing.  One thing in particular that I enjoyed researching is the origin and history of insults from different cultures.  I’d never really thought too deeply about it before, but it is interesting to note that you can reverse engineer the things that are most sacred in a culture by the very nature of things that are considered insulting.

Linda G. Hill

One of the most fun things I’ve ever done while researching was going to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and wandering around backstage. One of my upcoming books has a scene there: it’s a book about a stage magician, so the backstage part was important. I got to talk to stagehands about the logistics of having animals on stage, I had the opportunity to speak to the people who build sets, and I got to stand on the stage and look out at all the seats with the spotlights on. I wrote a post about it with pictures, if you’re interested.

C E Aylett

That salt water crocodiles are one of the most aggressive beasts on the planet and do some crazy stunts to protect their territories, and yet as mothers they are highly protective, staying with their young as oppose to laying eggs and then leaving them to fend for themselves, as other reptiles do. Salties are mega cool and I have a massive amount of respect for them. But I wouldn’t want one as a pet.

The most eye-opening subject I ever learned about for a story is being transgender. It’s not about sexuality so much as being about sexual identity. And in researching that subject I realised how clueless I – as a hetero female — was (still am, really) and everyone else who hasn’t experienced gender identity issues. Most heterosexuals don’t understand the difference between the two and yet they are the ones making all the decisions that affect this minority the most. It’s quite heartbreaking to know people feel that trapped.

Paul B. Spence

I think the most interesting thing for me was an understanding of my technique and style. I am often surprised by the where the stories end up going, but it all seems to make sense in the end.

D. T. Nova

The history of the Knights Templar is pretty interesting.

A lot of folklore involving stars and constellations, including the story behind Tanabata.

I learned about hihi’irokane, a pseudohistorical metal similar to orichalcum

Also, I care a lot more about hairstyles than I ever thought I did.

Eric Wood

While I have haven’t been published yet, I do write a regular feature on my blog called “Go Ask Your Father”. It’s one of my favorites to write on my blog. It’s the day I answer four questions of the millions my two boys ask. I’ve lost count how long I’ve been writing this feature so I’ve also lost count how many questions I’ve answered. I’ve learned about dinosaurs and plate tectonics. I’ve learned about 4 stroke lawnmower engines and twisted inclined planes.

H. Anthe Davis

I have a culture that lives just below the treeline in an area similar to the Khumbu region of Nepal — where Mt. Everest is located.  It’s been interesting to research the area and the effects such high altitudes have on people, animals and plant life, as well as the effort it takes to surmount such high peaks when you have to pass into the ‘death zone’ (area where there’s not enough oxygen to support human life) for a certain amount of time.  Physiological effects, acclimatization, genetic quirks that allow some people to adapt better, and all the well-recorded attempts at the Everest summit (some of them successes, some of them disasters) — these are all really interesting to me, and I learned some surprising things, like how two men once climbed the north face of the mountain in 37 hours, mostly at night, carrying nearly no gear and no oxygen back in 1986.  Crazy Swiss!

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Most of the things that I’ve learned through research are not the kinds of things that are to be discussed in polite company. For instance, I’ve looked up the steps of decomposition of a human body, how body temperature changes after death, how little impact it could take to kill someone, and so on. I’m pretty sure writing “Nowhere to Hide” put me on numerous government watch lists.

As for experience, this is totally random, and I don’t know if it’s really interesting to anyone besides me, but I’ve learned that a heck of a lot of people would love to see themselves written into a zombie novel, even if it’s just to be killed.

Jean Davis

Beyond the usual dead body facts, and a few medical procedures, I learned several ways to deep space travel while researching a novel that turned out to be absolutely awful, but the research was interesting and played a integral role in the plot.

Beth Aman

1) How fragile swords are.  Like, you would never practice swordplay with real metal swords, hitting them off each other, because you’d destroy them.  If you’re practicing, you’d use wooden swords.

2) If someone gets shot with an arrow, don’t break off the shaft.  Leave it in place until you’re ready to pull dig out the arrowhead, too.

Jay Dee Archer

Some of the research I’ve done for Ariadne include some scientific principles. Although I have a degree in physics and astronomy, I didn’t know much about EMPs or electromagnetic pulses. I was trying to discover its effect on electronics and whether it affects a human’s nervous system. It was interesting to read about it, though I will need to create a new technology that will do something similar to an EMP for it to do what I want.

How about you?

If you’re an author, what are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned while writing or researching? Let us know in the comments below.

Should You Write What You Know?

Writers are often told to “write what you know.” If you have knowledge about a subject, then write about it. Experts write about their field of expertise, so if you happen to be a great collector of bottle caps, then write a book about it. But when it comes to fiction, this becomes a bit of an issue.

Let’s assume I will write what I know. In university, I majored in physics and astronomy, which includes fields such as relativity, quantum mechanics, fluid dynamics, radio astronomy, electronics, radiation, lasers, optics, planetary science, thermodynamics, cosmology, and all the really basic physics from Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo. I did not study string theory, as it was still very much in its infancy when I was in university. I also took courses in chemistry, geology, atmospheric sciences, and programming. So, through these, I know how reactions work, how to make batteries, how to make rudimentary explosives, what causes weather phenomena, how volcanoes work, what happens during an earthquake, how plate tectonics happens, the fossil record, and how to make a paint program (although I’ve completely forgotten). I have also taken online courses where I learned things like plant communication and archaeology. I have used many of these when working on Ariadne, as well as worldbuilding.

For Ariadne, I have used geology, numerous aspects of astronomy, atmospheric sciences, and the knowledge I have about evolution and biology through high school, one of my geology courses, and my own personal interest. For the future series about the dying man whose final wish is to explore the solar system, I use my knowledge of the planets, as well as physics involved in spacecraft propulsion, orbital mechanics, and so on. So yes, I am writing what I know.

But you see, that’s not enough. There are many gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill to make my stories more believable and realistic. For Ariadne, I need to research more about spacecraft propulsion systems (though I have a good idea about these anyway), DNA (especially mutations and recessive/dominant genes), urban planning and land use, and religion. To do these, I read a lot. I’ll read books when I can, I’ll search on the internet for scientific papers, and I’ll even use Wikipedia.

Reading books is great. I love doing it. If there are books about DNA, I think they’ll help me with my research on hereditary traits, recessive and dominant genes, and so on. The library is great for this. You don’t have to read the entire book, just the relevant parts. Encyclopedias are good, too.

Searching on the internet for scientific papers is very useful. I only go through official channels for these, so I’m not seeing opinions of the scientifically illiterate. I’m going straight to the legitimate source, the actual scientists that did the research. This can take some time, unfortunately, due to the nature of many papers. They can be utterly dull to search through to find what you want to know. But it has to be done.

However, Wikipedia is often a quick way to do this. I know many people say that Wikipedia is a poor source, but it is actually a very, very good source. The information on it isn’t made up. It’s taken from official sources, verified, double-checked, and scrutinized closely. Everything must be referenced. There must be legitimate sources. Don’t believe Wikipedia? Then follow the references to the original publications. You’ll get your information there.

Writing fiction isn’t all about what you know. You need to expand your horizons. Write about what you don’t know. Learn about it. You’ll become a better writer, and be able to cover many more situations in a believable manner.

What’s your opinion? Do you think we should just write what we know? Or should we research extensively to improve our knowledge and write about many different things? Let me know in the comments below.

Extreme Learning

I hadn’t heard of the term “Extreme Learners” before, and was curious about what it was. There’s a website for it, actually. Extreme learners go beyond the traditional ways of learning. They take charge of how they learn. They even do their own research, book time at labs, create their own curriculum, and do whatever they can to learn. From what I’ve read, they are not geniuses. They are not gifted. They’re just extremely ambitious about learning, and will do whatever they can to learn.

I wondered if I could ever be an extreme learner. I mean, I’m always interested in learning something new. I’ve taken online courses, I’ve been looking at languages a lot recently, and I’m constantly reading up about science. What I haven’t done is gone out and done my own research in the field. I could, though. That might be fun.

But could I be an extreme learner? Perhaps. Do I have the time to do it? I don’t think so. But whenever I have the time, I do my best to learn something new. I guess you could say I’m a student for life. If I could, I’d go back to university and study something new, probably a major in geology and a minor in Japanese. I often think that’s what I should have studied. But who knows? It may be possible.

Would you ever try to be an extreme learner? Do you enjoy learning new things? And would you ever go back to school? Let me know in the comments.

Quick Facts Geography Preview

I’m itching to get started on Quick Facts Geography. I have a few ideas about how I’d like to do it, as well as what I want to include. For each country, I’ll provide facts and information that you can quickly find, rather than having a wall of text to search through.

So, here is what I’m thinking about including:

Country Basics

  • Country name, origin of name, and name in official language.
  • Official language(s)
  • Map (Google Maps embedded)
  • Flag
  • Official religion (if available)

By the Numbers

  • Population
  • Area
  • Year of independence
  • Highest point (with picture)
  • Lowest point
  • Borders with neighbours
  • Coastline
  • Administrative divisions
  • Life expectancy at birth
  • Literacy
  • Human Development Index


  • Five largest cities with population and pictures (these will be public domain or shareable via Creative Commons).

Physical Geography

  • Description of general areas: mountain ranges, major lakes, major rivers, etc.


  • Climate zones (Koppen classifications)
  • Average high and low for hottest and coldest months at selected locations.

Some information may not be included, some may be added. This is not a complete list, and is subject to change.

So, I would like some suggestions from you. What would you like to see included in Quick Facts Geography? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

Find Out About Something You’ve Always Wanted to Learn About

Ever wanted to learn about something, yet you haven’t really checked it out? Well, why don’t you do a quick Google search and find out one bit of information?

For me, I’ve been interested in learning about ship operation, particularly pre-industrial ocean-going ships, and the terminology. The one thing I looked up is poop deck. What is the poop deck? Well, according to this source, the poop is an enclosed structure at the stern of a ship above the main deck. But what exactly is the poop for? Well, it’s a cabin where the helmsman stands on the roof (or the poop deck) and steers the ship. In modern ships, the functions have been moved to the bridge. So, it’s where you find the wheel of the ship! Poop comes from “la poupe” in French and “puppis” in Latin, which means stern. So, the poop deck is the stern deck. I did not know that.

Now it’s your turn. Search for something you’ve been wondering about, but never bothered to find out, and report your findings in the comments.

Questions I Want to Answer with Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is a big task, and there are many things to consider. You can go into as much detail as you want, depending on the scope of your story. You could involve an entire world, or you can keep it to a small pocket of a continent. Whichever it is, you have to answer some questions.  Here are some questions I’d like to answer:

  • Is there skiing?
  • Where do they go on vacation?
  • Where do children play?
  • What kind of literature do they read?
  • Is there any kind of popular music?
  • In that case, are there any idols that young people watch?
  • What kind of weapon do they use for hunting?
  • What kind of fashion trends are there?
  • What are the strange local delicacies that outsiders think are disgusting?
  • Do they go to museums?

These seem a bit random, but they could come up when writing a story, both fantasy and science fiction. You often have to consider the more obscure facts that may not even be normally thought of.

Can you think of any other questions?