On research

Let’s start off by admitting that I don’t have a routine for learning about things. I am a magpie, chasing the latest shiny thought, a bee that goes flower to flower to flower. I love learning new things (but not why I shouldn’t take a shower when my husband’s brewing beer — he uses water-cooling on the wort, which, as one should have expected, affects shower temperature in both directions as he turns it on and off), but I’m unpredictable in what sets me off.

I might wonder about the difference between salt mines and salt reclaimed from sea water, about the history of the salt trade, and how current medical ideas have changed its presence on our tables. (Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky is a good place to start for that series if questions.) Or I might decide I need to know more about the history of tea and check out all the books the library has on the topic, and read until my curiosity is sated.

I might decide to set a story in a particular type of factory — one I’ve never been in, of course. So I google images of that type of factory, looking for floorplans, labels for the specific parts, dimensions if I can get them. When I discover a cool part of the factory on a schematic, I then google for more information on how it works, doing my best to find details to bring it to life for others who haven’t been there — and to avoid being called out by those who have.

I wanted to write a story with a solar sail; I started at the NASA site, but also visited Wikipedia, the European Space Agency’s site, and read some news articles. The story’s still not done. I got sidetracked.

And that, sadly, is the drawback to being a magpie. If I only need a bit of information and can get it and move on to the writing, it works well. Otherwise, I run the risk of distraction and losing bits to my subconscious, where they languish, waiting or me to draw them out and use them.

Which means my method works well for two things: specific bits of information I want right now (which makes me a good person to ask if you need something looked up; my Google-fu is strong), and large, general background for flavor.

What kind of information have you found yourself looking for recently?

Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Research routines”– September’s topic in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour — an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to check out the next posts in the series, by Sandra Barret and D. M. Bonanno.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out their thoughts on first stories, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. You can find links to all of the posts on the tour by checking out the group site. Read and enjoy!

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  1. The most fascinating find in recent memory was the standards for setting up a polar bear zoo exhibit. I’m also inordinately curious about how underground movements succeed (hiding of the Jews in WWII, the Resistance in France, the Underground Railroad, etc). I’m looking for actual stories from the time — not politicized hype after the fact. The first I could research without much worry. The second has me a bit skittish.

    • It does not surprise me you were researching polar bears. 🙂

      So you need diaries from the time periods? I’d be willing to bet special collections librarians could help you, at least with the Underground Railroad.

  2. Well, yes. I had to have a design for Inuit’s zoo enclosure, and I wanted to make sure it met appropriate national and international treaties and other standards. I also looked at several zoo’s photographs of their bear enclosures and I think I came up with a pretty need exhibit space.

    Do you think diaries would have that information? I’d be afraid of being caught with the diary. Of course, there are places to hide them, so I suppose that would work. Why did I not think of this?

  3. My latest research involved Space stations and how big they would need to be to support 10,000 people. Had to include agriculture, manufacturing, etc. Led me to look at USS Destroyers and Battleships, and a converstation with an aerospace engineer.

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