The ‘R’ Word
by Chris Karlsen
As a writer, one of the questions I am most often asked about is: research—the ‘R’ word. I’m asked how much do I do and how do I go about finding what I need to know.
Love research, hate it, or resigned to it, for many of us, it is necessary. Personally, I enjoy research. In addition to books in my personal library, I keep three-ring binders of research material for all my stories.
I start my research before I start the book. For my first book, “Heroes Live Forever,” I began three months ahead and continued to do research throughout the writing of the different drafts. I found as I read, that new information sometimes led to a new scene in the story or new conflict. Part of that story is set in 14th Century England and France. The Battle of Poitiers is the setting for the prologue. Another setting was a Norman-style castle in Norfolk. I needed to know about medieval armor of the period for the battle, weapons, and also tactics. My research continued as some of this same information would be used again in the sequel, “Journey in Time,” much of which is also set in 14th Century England.
One source, which I’ve had modest luck with, is emailing an expert. In “Heroes Live Forever,” the issue of armor weight was a factor in one scene. I had the late Ewart Oakeshott’s series of books on medieval armor and weaponry. He was considered an expert in this field. As luck would have it, after I wrote my scene, the History Channel ran a program on medieval armor, which stated a completely different weight, substantially different. I wanted clarification. I emailed the curator of the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London. (It was a shot in the dark. I wasn’t at all confident the busy curator would respond.) I received an email back the next day verifying the weight I used and clarifying why the difference. Another time, I needed to know how to drain a moat using medieval equipment and manpower. Again, it was a shot in the dark, but I emailed the Army Corps of Engineers. Not only did I receive a quick reply with two solutions but the person who responded commented on how excited their group was to solve such an unusual problem. They found it “fun.”
If I know I am going to use information again and again, I will purchase books for my library. This can be expensive, I know, but for me it’s more practical. I’ve gone back dozens of times to various books I own. As I read them or consult them, I use color sticky tabs to mark off the different sections for faster referral.
I don’t bother buying books for some bit of information but search out archived articles on the topic at magazine sites like: Archaeology Magazine, Smithsonian, National Geographic, American Journal of Archaeology. Those articles I printout and keep in the binders. Since “Journey in Time,” is a time-travel I wanted to include a possible theory for the opening of the time portal. For that I sought out articles from Omni, Scientific American and Nova. I also purchased two books: one written by several theoretical physicists and one written by an astrophysicist.
Because my books are set outside the United States I like to include a fair amount of information regarding the area. In my opinion, there’s no point in using a foreign setting if you as a writer are not going to give the reader a real flavor of the place. I’ve traveled to England and France often so I could write from memory and use personal photo albums when I wrote “Heroes Live Forever” and “Journey in Time.” My next book to be released in mid March is set in Turkey. Again, I have traveled there a number of times and could use my experience. What I didn’t know very much of personally in spite of my travels, was flora and fauna, or sometimes little details about a region, or the ingredients in a popular dish and how to prepare it. This is especially true when I wrote the Turkish setting.
I go to the official online sites for gardens in the region open to the public as they often list the different seasonal exhibits. The same is true for zoos that feature local wildlife. A commercial guidebook, like Fodor’s or Frommer’s will mention both popular and not so popular local places to visit. Most libraries have guidebooks available. For cuisine, I find archived articles related to different countries in various food magazines.
Speaking of the History Channel, I found many excellent and informational DVD’s from the various specialty channels are sold in their online shops. Foreign newspapers are also a good source for articles and the Op-ed sections offer some revealing insight into how the people of the country feel about local and global issues.
Yes, I am a research geek who’s easily amused by a dear writer friend who tears her hair out whenever she’s forced to do research.
If you have any trouble entering the form below, here is the direct Link:
You can find the full blog tour list at Bewitching Blog Tours.