On Active Research

This post over at SFNovelists offers a nice guide for how to conduct some really active research as a writer visiting another place.

Now I consider myself more of an “armchair writer,” insofar as most of whatever research I complete is usually done by way of books and the Internet, but the author of this post, Marie Brennan, offers a compelling case for why you should take active travel opportunities to research your latest work. Some of you may not have the financial capacity to undertake such excursions.  I know that I don’t.  However, it seems to me that as authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy any place will really offer the opportunities that Brennan discusses.   We are, by and large, world builders, which means that any small detail you can capture from unfamiliar locations will help add to the realism of your own world.   Of course, visiting some cheap inexpensive place isn’t the same exact thing as visiting areas of the Tower of London that aren’t open to the public, but every place you visit will offer you some kind of oddity that can be converted into your writing.

A few years ago I went on a spectacularly boring (but inexpensive) trip to upstate New York.  While there I visited a half finished Castle, which the owner had constructed for his wife.  She died partly into its construction and it was abandoned with some kind of mixture of Citizen Kane/Miss Havisham-esque regret.  Not only was the idea of an unfinished castle worth writing into my notebook, but so were many of the little areas I visited within this structure.  I also remember a Walter Matthau-esque tour guide who was quite the character (unintentionally) and he was worth a few notes in my notebook too.

The point is, even if you aren’t heading out to the Tower of London, make use of whatever location you happen to visit on vacation and you will find small bits of life worth stealing for your own uses.

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