Thursday, June 3, 2010

Research: Sometimes People Can be Your Best Resources

"Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose." Zora Neale Hurston

Lately, I've noticed lots of questions popping up in the Writers Digest Fiction Writers online community that deal with research. As a former librarian, this is one of my favorite topics!

As writers, we want to be accurate with our information, so we won't look ignorant to our readers. But our mission is writing, not research, so we have to be careful not to let our research become a time drain from our writing.

Somtimes, when trying to nail down facts to add credibility to a story, you can run into a dead end. When you've exhausted all print and online sources, calling the library can be the next possible step--or, how about seeking information from an expert?

Not long ago I asked my husband's advice on a scene I'd written involving a dynamite explosion. My husband knows explosives, but he's not an expert--he just built bombs as a kid. Miraculously, he still has two eyes and ten fingers. After I read my scene, he ripped it to shreds. Granted, at that point, I hadn't done any research. I'd only used what I'd seen on TV as a guide--never a good idea. My husband couldn't answer all my questions about dynamite, so my first in-house stop was an encyclopedia, and then the Internet.

Although I found lots of information, I couldn't find the answer to every single question I had in order to write a believable scene. Instead of going to the library, checking out a bunch of books and investing more time, I decided to locate a human resource--someone who could give me more than I'd find in a stack of books for the particular episode I wanted to create. After playing around for a little while online, I found an International Society of Explosive Engineers. With local chapters all across the country, I called the chapter chairman closest to me.

Understandably wary, he informed me that usually, he couldn't answer questions unless someone had gone through the proper channels. After trying to convince him that I really wasn't a terrorist, he asked me to explain what I was looking for, then told me he'd decide what he could answer. After the first few minutes, he realized I was safe and literally had no clue, whatsoever, about explosives.

He taught me more about dynamite than I'll ever need to know. My source even provided a more realistic scenario for what I was trying to describe, as well as a way to kill off a bad guy in the aftermath of an explosion, while the good guy survives. This contact gave me 45 minutes of his valuable time, answered all my questions, and let me pick his brain!

Nothing like communicating with human resources the good old fashioned way--talking! Sometimes that can be the most useful research out there!

Do you have a fun adventure in research to share?

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