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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.