The Potential For Research

Despite the fact that fiction is, well, fake, there is still a need for realism in it. Realistic events, realistic setting, smells, sounds, etc. Especially if a book is taking place in a real-world location. In my fiction workshop class we had to go to a place and do “eyes and ears” research for our next short story. We had to take notes on the things we saw and smelled so that when we write the short story we’ll be able to include these intricate details. The major point of this exercise is to teach us to do real-world research, and to show the readers things about a location they might not know. For this story I did my eyes and ears research at the hospital I work at. Specifically the emergency department. I mentioned the wheelchairs, the exit signs, the two sliding doors, the registration area, and a few other various things, and then I wrote a pretty dark and angry short story to go with it. I think my fiction workshop class might be a little freaked out after reading it, but not everything in the world is sunshine and biscuits. (Is that a saying? I don’t think it is).

However, I’m most excited for some research I might potentially be doing very soon. As you all know, I posted a week or two ago about how I’m working on a flintlock fantasy novel. A novel which takes place during the time period of gunpowder weapons. Well, while I was at work last week, one of the doctors from the emergency room asked me how my book sales were going, and we got to chatting about my other books. I mentioned I was working on a flintlock fantasy novel and he told me he might have a musket in his collection that I would be able to go shoot. Freakin’ sweet, right? That would be perfect to actually know what it feels like to load and fire a musket. Plus I’ll get an idea of just how loud it is, any smells that go with it, and how long the whole process takes. I really hope he has one, because I think that will help me add make sure that part of the story is 100% accurate. Of course when/if this happens you’ll all be updated with a blog post and, hopefully, a fair amount of photos.

What sort of research have you done for a story? Have you ever done any particularly cool or exciting/thrilling research? Any strange research?


20 thoughts on “The Potential For Research

  1. I suck at research, especially the sitting down in front of Google part of it. I did t think of smells though, and when I’m at work today during lunch I’m going to do what you did and do an eyes and ears thing and see what I come up with 🙂
    You mentioning the musket, that’s awesome by the way, especially if your colleague does have one, brings me to the lack of guns here in the UK. I can’t just go to a shooting range and squeeze off a few rounds, so I have to go by what other people have written.

  2. I agree, I think getting your details and realism right is so very important. If you do it well your reader won’t even notice you’ve done it, they will just instinctively feel the realism and get drawn into the story. Fantasy at once has great potential for research to be of benefit (historical weapons, places, social structures etc) but also can be a vacuum to since you’re often trying to create an entirely new world rather than recreate one that once existed. But either way realistic details help a reader become anchored, see, smell and feel what the writer does and you are exactly right: the importance if this is paramount. And it’s so easy to do as well. You could pore for weeks of primary materials on sword making, or you could simply, like you did, take yourself off somewhere that has a similar atmosphere to the one you’re trying to create. Stately homes, ruins and national parks are good for me, they help me see the landscape in which my story is set and appreciate the effect this can have on the plot or characters. On a more specific level I have relatives in the armed forces of which I can query about ranks and strategy and I also have a friend who grew up and works with horses, so I can ask her about tack, behaviour and care for a horse which someone in my world would need to know. Research doesn’t have to be an arduous chore but every little you do makes your fiction richer. I look forward to hearing about the musket. That sounds like a blast ^_^

  3. Hi Chris, I actually love research and can become lost in research for my books. I often have to set time limits for myself. I hope you are able to use that musket and see how it works. There is nothing like that kind of research. For my book, I took a blacksmithing class, and it was invaluable. I hope it works out!

    • That sounds like it would be really cool! I’ve always had an interest in blacksmithing. I’ve only seen brief shots of it on t.v. It would be interesting to see just how much labor goes into making, specifically, weapons and armor.

  4. I am hopeless at the whole eyes and ears thing. Mainly because I spend most of my time daydreaming, no matter what I’m doing.

    And I’m definitely lazy when it comes to research. ‘Research’ for me never really goes beyond a five minute web search. This is something I definitely need to work on.

    Interesting post – you definitely got me thinking!

    • Thanks! Sometimes the five minute Google search is really all you need. However, getting that little bit of real-world detail can be essential. Even if you sit in a coffee shop or on a park bench and just takes notes for fifteen minutes. What do you see? What do you hear and smell? How are people interacting with each other? You don’t necessarily have to use all of the details, but sprinkling in a few can help to relate the reader to the situation. Glad I could get you thinking!

  5. Research comes to me through two main channels.

    First the experienced research. For my online series of Steampunk tales I set them in Harrisburg because I had lived there for several years, wandered through much of the city on foot, seen the sights, smelled the smells. I value experiences more than any other kind of research. Through my son’s love of all things Train related, I know what a steam engine smells, sounds and feels like. I know what turn of the 1800’s / early 1900s cars look like, how they were appointed. Again, things that I experienced.

    Second, there is more ‘academic’ research. Internet, Library, Historical societies etc.. I used those to fill in other details. For example: Fort Couch. I have placed several scenes at Fort Couch. Now here is where things blend and blur. There was indeed a Fort, actually there was a pair, on the west shore of the Susquehanna River opposite Harrisburg. They were in place through the Civil War. That much is fact. The secret government facility in the base of the hill under Fort Couch, pure speculation. A Colonel at said fort named Sanderson Witmore, again fiction.

    My philosophy is this: Fiction is like the best lies. They (lies) are based in the truth so they are more believable than an outright lie. Fiction should be much the same, in order to hook the reader you need to give them something truthful to grasp and connect with. Then you can lead them down your rabbit hole if you like.


  6. Whenever I use a house, perhaps in the Hamptons as part of my story, I research the location using a real estate company website. I find a building for sale that I like and incorporate the general details of that listing as the background of that location. The higher end real estate companies publish loads of pictures and details. That puts reality in the location. I also get the pleasure of finding lots of cool places for sale that I can explore as a side journey.

    • That’s an excellent idea! I hadn’t considered that. That is an excellent way to get into a house you might otherwise not have a chance to get into.

    • Google Maps has been pretty beneficial to me as well. It helps a lot when figuring our travel times, or layouts of cities.

      Unfortunately my area lacks a lot of museums, although that would be excellent research. As for photo archives, I’ll have to look into that.

  7. That’s really awesome that you get to shoot a musket! Have fun (and be careful)!

    I like active research – going out and exploring, *doing* something. I hate inactive research. Looking up information and making sure everything is 100% accurate. It gives me the willies. I’d much rather concentrate on the writing, which is why I don’t write historical fantasy and why I usually try to make up 100% of my worlds. It’s much less complicated that way.

  8. That is an absolutely awesome opportunity if you get to do it! To date, most of my hands-on research has come from my previous experience – so usually to do with animals, since I’ve studied Zoology and a little Animal Health. With a family and work and writing to do, I admit to not getting out much these days! But I’m sure the opportunities will return…
    As much as I love writing fantasy, I do love learning from real life.

  9. Oh, man! I love research! Hell, I’m researching almost every minute of every day. I was watching this guy laughing as we drove to the store today, and I found myself taking a mental picture of his body language.

    Hey, the musket shooting is super sweet! Bet you didn’t think your research was gonna get that real, did ya? : )

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