16 July, 2012
Honestly, Officer, I'm writing a story...
I know - you can't wait for the sequel, right?
Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful for my blessed life. I am not keen for terrible things to happen to me or my loved ones, just to boost my writing material. Besides, what about fantasy? I bet Tolkien didn't have first-hand experience of evading Ringwraiths. The point isn't to write about just what you've experienced, but to make sure whatever you do write about you have researched and/or thought-through in more detail than you could possibly need.
This of course requires a lot of googling (or ninja-like library skills - something my ex-polytechnic education didn't give me). But does anyone else wonder what would happen if their internet search history was examined by an outsider? In Notes From a Small Island, Bill Bryson says that if he ever discovered a body and was being interviewed by the police about where he was at a certain time, he might as well hold his wrists out for the cuffs straight away because there's no way he'd remember. I feel the same about my internet history.
There are plenty of harmless of things I've had to research for my writing - how to bake a Victoria Sponge Cake, for example. There are also obscure little bits of knowledge that I needed to make sure I was getting details right (because someone will spot it if I don't!). I have recently had cause to look up the geology of the Sussex coast, the number one hits of the 80s and popular cars of 1957.
But the conflict contained within stories means you end up googling things like eating disorders, incest, dementia, World War One field hospitals and the process of kidney donation. (Not all for the same story!) I've recently read an academic paper on the causes of anencephaly in foetuses and why internet hoaxes still fool people. I've watched videos of Hitler's speeches on YouTube and researched the uses of different types of gun.
In my 'ideas' notebook I have plenty of potential storylines waiting to be transformed into a plot. One or two, however, require a working knowledge of explosives and I haven't dared google that yet, for fear of SWAT teams abseiling into my study.
So I was wondering, what are the weirdest things you've had to research for the sake of your writing (or even not for the sake of your writing)?
While you're thinking about that I'm off back to Wikipedia (don't look at me like that, we all use Wikipedia for research) to continue my study into the efficacy and side-effects of various doses of cyanide poisoning...