Not that long ago I stumbled across a blog called “Entertaining Stories,” written by fellow blogger and author, C. S. Boyack. Needless to say, I found Craig Boyack’s observations highly entertaining, and in no time added his blog to my list of regular haunts. Trust me—you need to check it out. He shares interesting reflections, writerly thoughts and slice-of-life stuff. It’s kind of like sitting around in a writer’s café and chatting with the group. You can find Entertaining Stories here.
If you hop over today, you’ll also find me there as well. Craig and I are doing a blog swap, each of us posting on various aspects of researching a novel. So check out the informative post below (along with Craig’s most recent release, THE COCK OF THE SOUTH), then hop over to Entertaining Stories to see what I’ve got to share!
The Cock of the South is a dwarven fantasy set in a Greco-Roman environment. It involves a group of scattered races coming together to face a common enemy. You can check it out here.
Mae Clair and I are doing a blog swap today. She’s over at my blog discussing the depths of her research for her WIP about the Mothman. To get your Mae Clair fix today, you’ll have to visit my blog at https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com
I’m here today to talk about my own version of research. I come up with some pretty wild things for my stories, but I’ve found it easier to fertilize my imagination somewhat. Maybe I should call it pre-research. To that end I use two special apps.
The first one is my RSS reader. This allows me to subscribe to topics that interest me. As a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal it helps to have data pushed to me. I get articles on archaeology, space exploration, webcomics, fantasy art and more this way.
I also use something called Zite Magazine. This allows me to subscribe to content that interests me, but it allows me to refine it. When you first pick a category, the app searches for the word. “Voodoo” will return information about doughnut shops, Jimmy Hendrix music, voodoo economics, and a bunch of other stuff you don’t want. Zite comes with a thumbs up or down option to help refine your results. Spend a month with it and you’ll be learning all about Gris Gris Bags and Black Cat Oil.
But wait, there’s more! I save time by checking these feeds daily. Not everything is awesome, and some days it’s just a quick surf. When I find something of interest I move it to my living documents.
I keep living documents on my iPad with names like Cryptids, Science Fiction, and Paranormal. I add a few notes, and include the link to the article. Now I have a handy reference guide when I need a story element or maybe even a central theme. I also save neat articles and post about them on my blog on occasion. I call these my Idea Mill posts.
My living documents aren’t fancy. They’re just notes for me, but they grow over time. If a note says, Black Shuck the Hellhound of Suffolk, that’s all I need. I can paste that into any search engine and get tons of data. (Try it, and learn all about Black Shuck) As the documents grow, I organize them into categories like ghosts, voodoo, witchcraft, etc.
Here’s an example of how this helped me out. I was writing a science fiction story called Arson at the time. Zite Magazine pushed me an article about micro-thin electronic circuits that would dissolve in water. The purpose was to use them in surgical applications one day. Wow, they’d probably wash away in a fire hose too. Look Ma, no evidence. The idea wouldn’t have occurred to me in a million years, but Zite provided a seed.
I received a post about an archaeological dig in Ancient Rome. It was all about a rock with a prayer carved on it. Apparently the ancients would place the rock on an outcrop and grind it clockwise while repeating the prayer. It also worked counterclockwise as a curse. I tucked it away in a living document, and thought no more about it. When I needed a little something for a novel called Panama, there it was.
I also keep living documents about various writing lessons. It’s just a handy place to remind myself of a suspense trick, or a plotting device that might help me out. Right now I need to improve my section on Asian magic and fantasy. I could use more data about Asian dragons too. I have a rough idea for a short story that could use a little kick in the pants.
All thanks to Mae Clair for inviting me here today. I hope you found my pre-research tips helpful.
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