Saturday, January 5, 2013
Writing Fiction Can Teach You Stuff!
So what has any of this got to do with writing fiction? This: writing fiction is another thing I've done since I was young, another great source of entertainment, but it wasn't until I started writing novels that I discovered that novel writing is a fantastic way to learn something new. And I have learned about things that I probably never would have thought I wanted to know about.
Before you start working on a novel, there are things you realize you HAVE to know. For example, if you write crime drama, you'd better know about police procedures. The Writer's Digest store has a guide for writers on different types of poison. Now there's a book I would consider a must-have if I wrote mysteries! (I don't, so I didn't buy it. My apologies to the author.) My psychological mystery (okay, so I AM writing a mystery, but nobody gets poisoned in it) has a main character who was abused as a child and suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka Multiple Personalities). Naturally, I knew I had to research that illness, its symptoms, how it's diagnosed, how it's treated, etc. The character is a professional singer and his best friend is his artist manager, so I thought I'd do a quick check of what artist managers do. Quick check ha! I discovered all sorts of things that I needed to know in relation to the music business (manager versus agent, types of managers, touring, the difference between a tour manager, a road manager and a stage manager, the difference between a load-out and a load-in, information about booking, PR, etc.). I learned a whole lot more than I needed to for the book, but it was fascinating!
When I started working on my fantasy novel, I wanted to give it a decidedly Irish / Celtic bend because that's my heritage. I did extensive research on Celtic myths, supernatural beings, symbols, and so on. I did not, however, know that, as I wrote the book, I was going to learn about herbs. One of the secondary characters is a human-sized Faerie who doesn't have wings (Faeries come in many sizes and types--check it out!) She lives among humans. They don't know she's a Faerie. She is a healer who uses herbs, so they think she's an herbalist. I hadn't planned to do much, if any, research on herbs since the character is just my main character's aunt. However, while I was trying to work how to get the main character(Siobhan) through a dangerous enchanted forest in a believable way, I was writing scenes in which Siobhan spends the summer helping her aunt with the healing practice. Epiphany! In folklore, many herbs have magical properties. So the research began and I discovered that there are herbs that provide protection, give invisibility and even allow one to fly! Cool! Problems solved. In the process, I got hooked on the real life effects and benefits of herbs and now am thinking of starting an inside garden. When I began the novel, I had no inkling that writing it would get me into herbs.
One final research joy has been going on virtual trips via Google Earth. I had to check out a couple of areas in Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles, California for the psychological novel and have taken visual tours of country roads in Ireland as a help to describing settings for the fantasy novel. Thank heaven for technology!
So if you are yearning to learn something new this New Year, write a novel and enjoy all the stuff you learn along the way!
Have you ever been surprised by what you've learned about while writing fiction? What are some of your favorite things you learned from reading fiction?