Does the word “research” give you the shivers? Dark memories of term papers or visions of endless numbers and figures? Well, it’s the first Friday of June (already!), and A Drift of Quills  is here to show you what research means to fiction writers!

A Drift of Quills

“My name is Robin and I am a member of Researchers Anonymous…”

ResearchOrTreasureHunt_DoQI blame it on my mother. I read a lot when I was a little girl. When I’d come across a word I didn’t know, I’d ask Mom what it meant. She invariably sent me to the dictionary.

A hundred years later (okay, not quite a hundred…) I find myself somewhat suspicious of her motivations. Did she actually (sometimes) not know the definition? Or was that just her way of making me an independent, curious wordie?

Either way, what happened was an addiction.

Oh, it started innocently enough. I’d read, I’d ask, I’d be sent to the dictionary—and then I’d get lost. I  often forget entirely what I’d gone to the dictionary for; there are so many interesting things in there!

The addiction grew to include encyclopedias, crept out to the library, and then hit the mother load with the internet.

Research: Not for Wimps

I research stuff (lots of stuff!) just because it’s interesting, and because one link leads to another. Those cleverly worded links in the sidebars of websites can lead me down long and completely irrelevant paths.

But… I find things on those paths, things that I can twist, and juggle about, and put into my stories: Pit houses. William Rufus (a.k.a. William II of England). 10 Real-Life Schools for Magick. Companion cavalry. Communist rules for revolution. Hag stones.

Okay, so some people might call that “surfing for ideas.” I call it feeding my muse. Or my talent.

“Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it’s the key to victory over fear and it’s cousin, depression.”

― Robert McKee, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting

Sometimes, though, in the course of spinning out a novel, I write myself into a position that needs facts to support it. Before I created the Alshani peerage system, I learned about how others were set up. (Yes, I spent days down that rabbit hole…) I had to learn about castle construction, travel times and distances, torches and lanterns, poison, and how long it takes someone to bleed out from which kinds of stab wounds.

Should I use Private Windows?

Oh, the conclusions one could leap to perusing my browser history…

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

― Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. Vol 2

Give me an idea, the internet, and some chocolate, and I could be distracted for days. I have had that happen. So now when I am writing along and I wonder what kinds of natural sources might be used to make tattoos, I mark the place in my manuscript and add a comment. That way I can stay in the writing groove, finish the scene while I still have it bright in my mind, and get the words for the day done.

One of the interesting facets of writing fantasy is that only some of the facts need to be, er, factual. That is, some things have to make sense and sound realistic to our modern brains. At the same time, an enormous amount of relatable facts can be magically turned into astonishing fantasy.

Is that fun or what?

Read on to find out what my dear friend Patricia thinks:


Patricia RedingAuthor of Oathtaker and Select
Patricia’s website

The lovely spring days are turning to summer, and we Quills are turning our attentions to the topic for this month, namely, what research do we do when writing, and how?

Every now and again I read a work with a glaring error that leaves me gritting my teeth. I recall one some time ago that mentioned a “sale” on a luxury item that I know well. You see, the item at issue is one I would call my . . . vice. So I know the entire product line well—and I know that it is never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, on sale. Ever. There are no holiday sales, no back to school sales, no Mother’s Day sales—none. Ever. (Did I say “ever?”) Consequently, when I read the material, I had to …(Read more!)

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What’s your favorite thing about exploring facts?
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever discovered while researching?


photo credit: 37/366 via photopin (license)