Today's Indie April Author is Kaye Thornbrugh, author of the awesome Flicker. Kaye has written this guest post for you guys!
When in doubt, go to the library. That’s my motto.
As a writer, I take research very seriously. I think it’s the journalist in me—I’m a journalism major, and the managing editor of my college’s newspaper. It’s important to me to get my facts correct, even when I’m writing fantasy.
For me, there are few things more satisfying than reading a book where I can tell that the author really knows his or her stuff. Likewise, there are few things less satisfying than reading a book where it’s obvious that the author didn’t research. It’s the little details—the nuts and bolts—that really flesh out a story and make it feel real, especially in a fantasy.
Some writers don’t like to research. I’ve known more than one who cringed at the thought of looking up information on sword fighting or horseback riding—probably because it feels like homework. I can see why that would be discouraging.
If I’m bored while I’m researching, I’ll probably be bored while I’m writing, and readers pick up on that. The words will be lifeless on the page. For me, the obvious solution the research slump problem is to write about topics that I’m excited to research—that way, I don’t wind up buried beneath mounds of dry, boring material that I have to regurgitate in my own writing. I let the research guide me as I choose a topic.
As a fantasy author, I base much of what I write on actual folklore and mythology—and I take reading up on it very seriously.
These days, especially in the fantasy and paranormal genres, it’s important to make your lore unique. Whether you’re writing about vampires, werewolves, faeries, demons, witches, or something else entirely, you have to find something you can tweak or twist and make your own.
But—in my opinion, at least—you can’t really make the lore your own until you understand and appreciate the lore in the first place. You have to establish a solid base before you start building on it, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. That’s where the research comes in. More than adding another layer to your writing, familiarity with folklore can add meaning to the stories you already know.
Brownies, for instance. Not the delicious kind, but the folkloric kind. In folklore, brownies are house spirits that serve one family by cleaning, mending, and protecting the house. You can release a brownie from service by presenting it with clothes.
Sound familiar? The house elves from Harry Potter are almost every inch the brownies of British folklore. (In fact, there are stories of a particular brownie in Yorkshire and Lancaster called “Dobby.”) See what I mean?
The book I’m writing currently (the sequel to my debut novel, Flicker) has called for a fair amount of fun research. Thus far, I’ve gotten to do the following, all under the label of “research”:
1) Watch the horror movie, “The Cave,” to study up on caving (I’m also reading Blind Descent by James M. Tabor). 2) Browse surfing blogs on Tumblr. 3) Listen to sea shanties. 4) Sift through the SurLaLune archives in search of Chinese fairytales. 5) Learn the difference between a kelpie and an each uisge (one haunts running water, like rivers and streams, while the other haunts the sea and lochs).
See? Research can be fun, once you get going!
Don’t know where to start? No problem! The Internet is always a good jumping-off point. (And despite what your high school teachers told you, Wikipedia is actually great for research—just follow the external links at the bottom of the page, and look up the sources from the article’s notations.)
Next, ask a librarian. They are noble folk, and they’ll be more than happy to help you find books on whatever subject you like—and they won’t judge you too harshly when you march up to the front desk with a stack of books about taxidermy, superstition, and caving, as well as a DVD of High School Musical 3. (That was me last week. I am unashamed.)
If you’re lucky like me, you’re Facebook friends with your high school biomedical science teacher, and you can ask him medical questions. Previous queries have included: “What can you tell me about blood poisoning?” “Why does your nose get stuffy when you cry?” and “How much blood can you inject into a person with a different blood type before you get a negative reaction?”
(Actually, that last one wasn’t for something I was writing. I had just read Shiver by Maggie Stievater, and my mind was positively swimming with Important Medical Questions.)
Be sure to build up your personal library, as well. Not only will all those books look really cool on your shelf and impress your friends, they’ll come in handy time and again.
My number one research tool, hands down, is An Encyclopedia of Fairies by Katharine Briggs. I have a lovely 1976 edition. It’s the best resource for fairy lore that I’ve come across so far, and I use it so often that I’ve found it necessary keep within arm’s reach of my bed, where I do most of my writing.
Here are some of my favorite books, for both research and pleasure reading:
– A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack
– The Vampire Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson (For some reason, I actually own two copies of this book.)
– The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca and The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley
– Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (In addition to being a richly illustrated and informative guide, this book also includes an extensive bibliography.)
– The Annotated Brothers Grimm by Maria Tatar
– Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by Ella E. Clark
– The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (I scrounged mine from a library book sale for a quarter!)
– The Associated Press Stylebook (Yes, I read this book for fun. Like I said, I’m a journalist.)
What about you guys? Do you like to research, or do you avoid it like the plague? What are some of your favorite research tools?