The Joys of Research

Joe’s Post #176

Is it possible to hate Tom Cruise, but love a lot of his movies?

Is it possible to hate Tom Cruise, but love a lot of his movies?

For me, I have a love-hate relationship with research. Like I have a love-hate relationship with Tom Cruise movies or hot curry.

But I come from an age when if you wanted to find something out, you had to go to a library or have a super knowledgeable friend or just make it up. It was an age long ago, an age of encyclopedias, and age long forgotten now.

Because today, we have the internet.

Now if I want to find something, the internet usually has the answer. How cool is that?

radioAnd it has answers for some pretty esoteric stuff. Like, what radio sets did the Germans use in 1940? I mean, seriously, someone has a website about this?

Well, yes, yes someone does.

Or using google maps to figure out how long it takes to get from the Rijksmuseum to the Oud Kerk in Amsterdam.

Or finding pictures of streetcars in 1930s Rotterdam.

Good lord, you wouldn’t believe the stuff you can find. Sure, it’s not always right there in front of you, and I am far from the best search-word user, but the internet is an amazing thing and before Skynet takes over and limits my access, I intend to use the hell out of it.

The only downside is, though, (and this is where the ‘hate’ part of the relationship comes in), it can become a MASSIVE distraction to the actual task of writing. How many hours have I spent looking up small details that would make my story better? Police call boxes in Chicago, 1930. The Red Light District in Amsterdam (ok, I may have gotten seriously sidetracked with pictures of this one). Uniforms of the Dutch army 1939. Hitler’s paintings.

Anne Frank's pictures

Anne Frank’s pictures

It’s fun, even if it is time-consuming.

But without such access, how would I ever be able to make my setting come to life, make my characters interact with proper historical items, or have the correct music playing on the correct device and using the appropriate speakers?

For any novel written in the time I’m living, I don’t really need to look up those things, but for a historical fiction, it’s an absolute necessity.

I am thankful for the age that I live in.


4 thoughts on “The Joys of Research

  1. I’m so with you on this one Joe! I love researching and becoming immersed in the era I’m writing about. The internet is fantastic, but also love the fabulous books available for more I depth research. And let’s not forget the joy of walking in the footsteps. For me, the ultimate in research is the ability to visit and stroll down the very same streets and visit the very same places as my characters, so that we can take the journey together!

  2. I too – love/hate. Just spent a day of that one luxury of time investigating what wine they would have produced in a specific little mountain area of Italy, so that I could have someone offer a glass of local vino to another person. Small details = lots of time, but it is more satisfying to have my fiction be fiction, and my facts be as real as I can make them.

  3. Joe, you pushed my button with this one. I love doing research for my books as much as I enjoy the actual writing. Dare I say, I often like it even more. Even if it can be a massive distraction, it’s time well spent as I always learn so much during the process.

  4. I think we should call writers’ research something else. Factshopping maybe. It truly is an addictive distraction, especially for trivia heads (like me, and I’m guessing, many other writers). But it’s essential to creating an authentic story world — even a contemporary one.

    I may have mentioned this book in the past, but it’s worth bringing up again: “How to Find Out Anything” by Don MacLeod. Cover subtitle is: “From extreme Google searches to scouring government documents, a guide to uncovering anything about everyone and everything.” Pretty big promise there. When you feel like you need to do a truly deep dive, this is your guide book.

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