Saturday, January 5, 2013

Writing Fiction Can Teach You Stuff!

     I love to learn!  Always have.  My parents and God gave me that gift.  And I love to do research.  It's exciting.  My parents had a set of encyclopedias and I used to have a great time looking things up--things I saw on t.v. (dinosaurs, for instance) or heard someone talk about (such as Quebec).  It didn't matter. I just wanted to find out more about it. Then after I read the entry, I would read the cross-references. And their cross-references. I spent hours just reading the encyclopedia.  Am I strange? Probably and--I don't care. It was fun! Then, after finding out all the encyclopedia had to offer on a subject, I would go to the library and go through all its books on the subject. The Tudors were and still are one of my favorite subjects.  The great thing about the Tudors is that people love to write books about them (fiction and non-fiction) and people continue to make documentaries (and series and mini-series) about them. At this point, few of the books and documentaries tell me much I don't already know about the Tudors, but there occasionally is a morsel of new information or a new perspective on old information. I live for that morsel. Arthurian legend, particularly anything to do with Merlin, has been another lifelong favorite topic of interest.  The Medieval period and history in general are pretty high on the list as well (I LOVE the History channel and its website).

     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?



  1. Great post!!! I was an encyclopedia reader too!!

    I learned that not all Indians lived in teepees. That their drum beats vary FAR beyond BOOMboomboomboom. That very few actually engaged in scalping during battle and that most of them just wanted to be left alone when the Spanish and Anglo explorers found them.

  2. Thank you. :)

    Isn't learning fun?

    Just a side note--because I wanted to reply to your message without using that other blame piece of social media--I totally understand what you did and why. I don't understand why what's happening is happening, and if it weren't for my writing career, I would completely and permanently disconnect from that particular social media venue and never look back. I don't really understand why it is so important to a writer's platform. There are other media that I think are a)more user friendly, b)more effective in reaching large numbers of people and c)a whole lot less frustrating.

    Okay, end of rant.

    Thanks for reading the post :)