Tuesday, November 11, 2008

All In the Name of Research

By Julie Wright

One of the coolest things about writing is the stuff I learn while writing. I dropped out of college my sophomore year because the stress was too much. I was taking a full load of credits on classes I didn't care anything about just because some one somewhere said that was what I had to learn in order to be well rounded. I don't regret not having the piece of paper that says, "Look at me! I graduated!" But I do miss the fact that I missed an opportunity to take classes I genuinely cared about. I regret not learning about the things that truly fascinate me. I would have loved archeology, and ancient civilizations. I would have loved photography and film making. Sigh. Oh, wait a minute, I'm not posting about past lamentations.


It's all about the research, baby. I love doing research. I love trying new things all in the name of research. I learned how to rock climb just because I wanted a rock climbing scene to be right in a book. You have to get those details right. People who really do go rock climbing will recognize your ignorance if you don't research out the details well enough. If you're having a portion of your book take place in Disneyland, then darn-it-all you just might have to take a little vacation for research. (there is one writer who missed this concept, and made some grievous errors in his novel. Those of us who love Disneyland will forever be irritated by his book. No I won't name names)

My latest book has been a blast to research.

The things I learned while researching for my current book:
1. Thimbleberry bush leaves can be used for toilet paper because the leaves are soft, large, and non irritating.
2. Choke cherries can be eaten in the wild, but usually at the time they are ripe enough to eat, they are full of worms, and they are so bitter and sour as to make people sick to the stomach.
3. The worldwide birthrate is on a major decline--specifically in "civilized" nations, however even tribal nations are feeling the pinch of a aging population and no youth to bear the burden of work and societal needs.
4. Three out of every five teenagers are sexually active.
5. Four out of every five of those sexually active teenagers have a sexually transmitted disease.
6. When Mount Rainier finally blows its top, the possible death tolls stretches over 150,000 people.
7. A lahar is like a swiftly moving wall of wet concrete.
8. The people living in the path of a lahar would have less than a 45 minute warning to seek higher ground.
9. The city of Orting Washington is settled on six meters of deposits from the last Mount Rainer eruption.
10. Combining the declining birth rate and the amount of sexually transmitted diseases that cause sterility in both men and women, it will only take three to five generations before humanity puts itself into a precarious situation.
11. The climate of the entire world is affected by volcanic eruptions. Major eruptions cause worldwide "cold spells" or "winters" where crops die, animals die, and everyone finds themselves a little colder and hungrier than they were the year previous.
12. An electron can "skip" from one allowed orbit or energy level to another.
13. Quantum physics is awesome.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I love writing. I love the tidbits of fact that I get to manipulate into my stories. There have been days where I've run little scientific experiments to make sure a thing is possible before I make an idiot of myself by including it in a book without checking first. I've learned more on more topics than two years of general education classes taught me in college. And it's been a whole lot cheaper.

I'd be interested in knowing what fun little tidbit(s) all you writing-on-the-wall readers have learned while working on your own writing.

Don't you just love what we do sometimes?


Melanie Jacobson said...

1. I have to read the book that connects all these dots.

2. I'm trying to internalize this lesson with my current novel, which involves a girl learning to surf. So far, I've been able to ask my husband tons of questions and just sit and watch the surfers off the pier, but I'm getting dangerously close to having to wiggle into a wetsuit in the middle of winter to get some questions answered.

Amanda said...

For my current mss, I'm having to research various types of spinal injuries and the extent of muscle loss depending on where the spine is damaged, and how extensive that damage is.

I love research.

TheOneTrueSue said...

Yeah, all I've learned is that I'm a total cheesehead with a flair for cheesy, cheesy melodrama.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Oh...I can't wait to read this book. Sounds interesting.

Heather Moore said...

Research may sound boring, but it's fascinating and can give you new ideas for characters or plots. I've done a bunch of research on the Queen of Sheba for a book and I've been floored by the myths and legends that surround her. Some believed she had goat feet! Others believed she was a demon because how could a woman possibly have so much wealth and power and knowledge?

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Oh I so know what you mean! The fantasy book I'm working on is highly connected to Geology, as subject I've always found fascinating. I'm enjoying the research as much as the writing, I think!

So glad Jeff helped you find the fun again.

Tamra Norton said...

One tidbit I looked up for the ms I just finished involved caracters or creatures with pointed ears--you know, Yoda, Mr. Spock, Hobbits, elves, fairies... Hey--it's important info!