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Where do you get your information?
Luna Watson
Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013 11:10 AM
Joined: 2/8/2013
Posts: 14

It's been said that you should always write about what you know. But what if you're inspired by something you don't know to much about?
Where do you learn more? How do you learn more? tell me about your research strategies.
Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:28 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 227

Depends on what it is I'm researching. Google is often my first stop. I've got flight planning information, street information (God bless Google Earth), images of historical dress and maps, languages/translations, names...so much can be found on the Internet. Google can also point me toward other books with similar types of characters, or connect me with people who are experts at whatever I'm researching. 

If' it's for a job, or about a real place, I contact someone in the field or who works at a place for added information. 

Posted: Friday, March 1, 2013 7:54 PM
I really can't add more than what Noelle has, except that sometimes I pick up the phone and call my father-in-law.

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2013 12:33 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Learning research skills is very important...especially learning how to tell good sources from crappy ones.   In order:

1) Contact someone who does/knows directly what you need.  But be careful:  not all doctors know any specific point of medicine.  Not everyone who owns a horse knows how to condition a horse for endurance riding...or upper level dressage...or cross-country  Or how to train colts, or rehab a horse with injuries or suffering from neglect.  Find someone who is experienced in exactly what you're asking about. 
      1) A)  Be interested in people, ask them about their interests and hobbies and notice when they're talking about them.  This is how you build up an acquaintanceship with the people who know what you need to know for your stories. 
      1) B) Ask for references and introductions (from those you know) to those you don't know, and learn how to find experts when no one you know has a clue either.  In other words, if you know one doctor who's, say, a cardiologist, but you need to know something specific about brain surgery, ask if the cardiologist happens to know a neurosurgeon who'd be willing to talk to a writer. 
      1) C)  In order not to waste your informant's time (really important with high-paid professionals like plumbers and crane operators--blue collar as well as white-collar)  learn what you can ahead of time.  Tell them you've tried to find out X from source Y, but you still don't quite understand Z...and they'll be more helpful than if you come in knowing zilch about pipes or cranes or brains or bones.
       1) D)  Do not write your story and then ask...because you may get an answer that ruins your story idea.   If so, be respectful of your source and do not go on with your lame idea and then cite the source as a reference...it's infuriating and makes the source unwilling to help others.   (Yes, that's happened to me when I was the source for something.  No, I'm not telling you where.  It still rankles.  I still know the person.)  If you must (SIGH) ignore the information because you can't stand to change your story, at least don't list the person as a source. 

2)  Use standard reference material (you can use the internet to find out what standard reference material is for your area of interest, or you can ask a research librarian. Research librarians can save you a heap of time, over wandering around from website to website.)   Most of these are books, or groups of books, and the standard ones will list additional references.  Go as deep as you have time for.   Never use fiction (even mine, even though I think I've done good research) as the source for your settings, characters, or details.  Use anatomy books for anatomy; use textbooks intended to teach EMS personnel for how to recognize and treat trauma and heart attacks and strokes in pre-hospital conditions, use geology textbooks for geology, and so on.  You can, by the way, start with a lower level text (even a book on dinosaurs for children, before digging into paleontology texts)  and work up.  I've done that.  .

3) If what you want to write about is a skill (sword fighting, horseback riding, weaving, wood-carving...) don't just talk to someone who does it, or read about it...do it yourself.  Building your own warehouse of skills and experiences is vital.  Hike, ride, learn to shoot (firearm, longbow, crossbow), knit, crochet, weave, whittle something from wood, build a table or cabinet or chicken house,  cook, paddle a canoe and/or kayak, sail a small boat.  Take every opportunity to learn for yourself what things look, smell, sound, and feel like.  Make a lifelong commitment to continue learning, and not just from books and internet reading.  You don't have to be good at everything, but part of the reality of your writing comes from your own reality of learning and doing.

4) Internet.  The internet's full of wonderful data and lots of connections, and it's full of junk, wrong "facts," misguided opinions, and connections to serious lunatics and conspiracy theorists.   Here's where a really good education (if you got one) helps (thank you, those of my professors who drilled into my head how to do research and recognize both good and crappy source material.)  Lacking that, you can teach yourself by reading a lot of professional references in several different fields, so that you train your brain and your gut feeling.  That being said, a quick and dirty (remember it's dirty) internet search is handy for finding references.  

Specialty listservs are often useful--do your background research first, and then go to them for the last thing you couldn't find.   (a World War I listserv found me the names of two destroyers and their captains in an armored cruiser group on a particular date in 1914--one of those kind people searched the Royal Navy archives for me--but only because I was able to tell them my research trail and what I did know.)  Specialty listservs are for enthusiasts and they don't have time to educate those who don't know anything and come bopping in with vague questions.

5) Always read/interview/check more than one source.  ALWAYS READ/CHECK MORE THAN ONE SOURCE.  Opinions vary.  The third or fourth person may have something that makes clear what you semi-understood from the first two.  Or one of them, in light of the others, may be revealed as a) more knowledgeable or b) an ignorant boob who thinks he knows it all.   An otherwise respected source may have an error (from a typo to a factual mistake) and if you rely on that source...there you are, replicating error.   Make sure your separate sources really are separate--if B and C are relying on A, then you've really only got one source. 

And above all--have FUN with research.  There's a huge universe of stuff you don't know out there waiting for you to wander in and start pulling things off the shelves to see what they are.  There always will be.  You can't exhaust it.  I find that exhilarating...who could be bored when there's so much to learn as information and as skillsets?

Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013 3:29 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014

My method won’t work for everyone, it’s a narrow approach. My story is set in the late sixteenth century, which has long been my comfort zone.

I read history, historical novels, biographies, anything related to the period. I’ve done so for thirty years. I keep note files on anything interesting, especially language, the politics, and the details of everyday life, roughly organized under Court Life, Sea Life, Science, The Theater, and so on. Anything that I have the slightest reason to think may be of use, whether I have a specific situation in mind or not, I enter into my files. After three decades they are both voluminous and full of juicy stuff.

I treat information the way an illustration teacher once advised my class to treat visual reference material. If something catches your eye, don’t second guess yourself. Grab it and store it, for the day when you need a close up view of a terrified mouse … or whatever.

If I’m stumped for an answer to a problem, I read through my notes until some or other bit gooses my sluggish imagination. I do additional research, of course, but this is where I start. 

If you focus on a particular period, I recommend this strategy.

Luna Watson
Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 10:59 AM
Joined: 2/8/2013
Posts: 14

I do something pretty close to your method Mimi. I keep mental note of whats going on in the novel im currently reading at the time and later apply it in my own away to my own work. Or go back to the book later to re fresh my memory.
Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 9:00 PM
Speaking of research, we had to make an emergency trip home on Monday, and I've been taking tons and tons of pictures. And it snowed last night. So, even more pictures!

GD Deckard
Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:06 AM
What a novel idea take photos of whatever reminds you of settings in your story! The experience could help us to see our settings better. Thanks, Mari. I'll recharge the battery in my camera today.
Luna Watson
Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 11:19 AM
Joined: 2/8/2013
Posts: 14

Oh I miss the snow. It is a beautiful novel Idea.But it's been so long since I've seen or even been in snow. I love taking pictures too. Hopeing to get my hands on a good camera here soon.
Tikaani Moon
Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 4:54 PM
Joined: 4/9/2012
Posts: 2

For me, I am a very tedious researcher, who wants to get as much information as I can about the topic I am writing until I can be labeled an expert.

I usually use google to find the information I need, and create a new document on google. Then I put everything together in outlines and notes, with the sources to where I got the information from. Sometimes I even find sites where people have asked questions regarding the topic from credible people. 

For most of my books and screenplays (mostly historical), I prefer to gather the information first before I write the book. Some books, I can do a little of both; doing research as I outline and write the book. I always make sure that the information is credible, and sites with good grammar and spelling is the first I look for. Also, I read and listen to many different sources to see if they all say the same thing about the topic.  

Michael R Hagan
Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 2:22 PM
Joined: 10/14/2012
Posts: 229

I kinda worked the other war around. It was cool tit-bits of info and history that enticed me to weave them into a story, and the plot followed.
Having said that, when I continually realised that I didn't know as much about any subject, as I had thought, I found Wikopedea & Google wondrous. I've also had some great info from here on BC regarding Geological and archeaological questions.Imagine researching any book prior to the net..... or sending out sumissions before digital printers and email....Blimey!

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 5:25 PM
@GD - I just use my cell phone, but it seems to take better pictures than my actual camera. Also, GoogleMaps is one of my best writing buddies!

@Luna - Good luck

@Michael - book research without the internet was kinda rough.


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