Tag Archives: how to research your novel

#NaNoWriMo prep part 7: Resources #amwriting

We are in the last week of prepping for NaNoWriMo 2022. Today we’re going to look at affordable resources for developing writing craft and sourcing information pertinent to your project.

orson_scott_card_write_scifi_fantasyLet’s start with craft. If you are at the beginning stage of your writing life, it’s hard to know where to find help in shaping your work into a coherent story. For many years, I didn’t even know books on the craft of writing existed.

One day in 1990, I stumbled upon a book offered in the Science Fiction Book Club catalog: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. The day that book arrived in my mailbox changed my life. That was the day I gave myself permission to be a writer.

I recommend checking out the NaNoWriMo Store, as it offers several books to help you get started. These books have good advice for beginners, whether you participate in November’s writing rumble or want to write at your own pace.

Brave the Page

Are you a first-time writer or a young author? While it is written for middle graders, adults just starting out will find good information in this book.

From the official Blurb: Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, Brave the Page is the go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Narrated in a fun, refreshingly kid-friendly voice, it champions NaNoWriMo’s central mission that everyone’s stories deserve to be told. The volume includes chapters on character, plot, setting, and the like; motivating essays from popular authors; advice on how to commit to your goals; a detailed plan for writing a novel or story in a month; and more!

Ready, Set, Memoir!

Are you writing a memoir but don’t know how to get started?

From the official Blurb: Written by former NaNoWriMo Program Director Lindsey Grant, Ready, Set, Memoir! is full of helpful lists, exercises, inspiring quotes from famous memoirists, advice, lessons, and humor to help walk you through the writing process. This guided journal will inspire and motivate you to write—and finish!—your memoir.

no plot no problem_mainFinishing off the resources from the official NaNoWriMo store is the handbook, No Plot, No Problem!

This book is a resource for people who want to write but don’t know where to start.

From the official Blurb: When you add No Plot? No Problem! to your personal library, it’ll give you a run for your lexical money! It’s a writing heavyweight, muscled with advice, activities, pep talks, and prompts that are sure to match your brain swing for swing in a literary tussle. Challenge this guide, and win, and you’ll have written a champ of a novel that can hold its own in the ring!

What if you are ready to move beyond the beginning stages and need more advanced information? My personal library of books on craft is huge. I can’t stop buying them. But what are the books I refer back to most frequently?

emotion-thesaurus-et-alThe following is the list of books that are the pillars of my reference library:

How do we source information that pertains to our story? What about the internet?

activateWe usually start our online hunt for information by “googling” a question, no matter what browser you use. Be wary and read several articles to get a broader view of what you are looking for. I also check dates to ensure the information is current and bookmark it if it is relevant to my story. Note: Your browsing history may look a little … unusual … after a while.

Some libraries have a service where one can submit a question and have it answered by email. If that isn’t an option and we’re feeling ambitious, we can check out books on any subject.

Resources for authors to bookmark in general:

my-books-cjjasp-own-workwww.Thesaurus.Com This is good for when I need to know, “What’s another word that means the same as this word but isn’t weird or repetitive?”

Oxford Dictionary online is brilliant for when I need to know, “Does this word mean what I think it means? Am I using it correctly?”

Wikipedia – The font of all knowledge, or so I hear. My go-to source of info is often Wikipedia. This resource is created and edited by volunteers. All articles must provide proper citations and reference links to outside sources to support every statement. Articles that don’t meet specific criteria are flagged. Some opinions may be presented as facts when discussing art or literature. But overall, I always find something useful by looking at the links in their footnotes and going directly to those sources.

You can learn just about anything on YouTube. That’s where I learned how to make a glass orb and is where I learned how medieval swords were made.

conflict thesaurusSo, let’s talk about writers’ groups. A good group is the best way to learn about this craft. Your area may have established writers’ groups, and some may be able to accept new members. The best way to find out is to google writer’s groups in your town and make inquiries.

Attend a few meetings as an observer to see if this group is a good fit for you.

If you don’t feel comfortable meeting in person or via Zoom, see what online writers’ forums might fit your needs. I participated in an excellent online group, Critters Workshop, for several years while testing the waters of the writing community.

In 2010, I gained a wonderful local group through attending write-ins for NaNoWriMo. Nowadays, we meet weekly via zoom. My fellow writers are a never-ending source of support and information about both the craft and the industry. We write in a wide diversity of genres and gladly help each other bring new books into the world. But more than that, we are good, close friends.

So this is my short list of resources for the beleaguered author. Monday will be the final post in this NaNoWriMo Prep series and will focus on how to find time to write when life wants to derail you.

Posts in this series:

#NaNoWriMo prep part 1: Deciding on the Project #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 2: Character Creation #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 3: Designing Worlds #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 4: Plot Arc #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 5: How the Story Ends #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 6: How the Story Begins #amwriting

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Questionable Physics, Plot Armor, and the Searchable File #amwriting

No matter their failings, our protagonist is always endowed with a special power not granted to ordinary mortals: plot armor. They alone are allowed to survive all manner of dangerous situations because they are needed for the plot to continue. 

And if the author has done their job, we believe it, and ask for more.

researchI just finished reading a sci-fi book set ten years from now, in 2032. It was a free Kindle book, but I felt overcharged.

One glaring issue, a blunder that outshone the obscenely poor editing, was this: The heroine’s amazing survivability was made possible by the author’s indulgence in Questionable Physics.

Via Wikipedia: Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. [1]

The science seemed more like squishy magic. Once I realized that, the book veered into fantasy, which wasn’t what I was in the mood for.

Readers of hard science fiction are quite particular. They want ideas that inspire thought about large issues, such as the far-reaching impacts of scientific, social, and technological innovations.

Science, technology, and their possible consequences are the core of hard sci-fi, and this book had nothing to say to society other than many mentions of how brilliant the heroine was.

The author had marketed their novel in the wrong subgenre—it belonged in Narcissistic Self-gratification, not hard science fiction.

Alarm clock quote ray bradburyNever once did the super-heroic and uber-capable protagonist fear for her life no matter what ridiculously dangerous situation popped up.

Above all, a protagonist must deserve their plot armor.

But enough about that book—let’s talk about research.

Authors who write science fiction should learn what modern physicists are currently doing in the lab and what they’re theorizing on paper.

We must use that knowledge to extrapolate how societies will look in the future. Authors must do the research and take what we know is possible today and flavor it with a dash of what we wish for.

Therefore, research is needed. But if we aren’t physicists, how do we go about it?

First, we identify what we need to know, and keep a list as new questions crop up. Then, we hunt for information. We use the internet, ask an expert, and create a searchable file or database of material that backs up our assertions.

A searchable file is a document containing links to every website, book, or published paper where you have found information about your project.

Every book I write has a stylesheet, usually in the form of an Excel workbook. For instance, this is how some of the tabs on one of my stylesheets looks:

tabs of a stylesheet

That workbook has several pages: a glossary, a calendar, a sheet with the maps, the outline of the projected plot, and personnel files for each character. Also, it has a page with the technology that might be available in an agrarian society. It also has a page with all the links to the websites where I’ve found information, and what I found useful on that page.

But I love science and spend some of my non-writing time randomly watching science shows.

One of my regular bits of brain food is a daily science news report by Anton Petrov, What da Math? His YouTube channel focuses on up-to-the-minute advances in astronomy and physics.

For example, Anton’s report which aired on September 11, 2022, discussed the known dangers of space travel as we are currently capable of it and possible solutions based on our current capabilities.

And Anton’s is not the only hard science show out there.

If the book I am currently bashing had been researched at all, the author would have understood more about the hazards facing humans in the colonization of Mars.

What if you are writing something involving a common, well-understood physics problem—that of braking and docking with another vessel in space? That maneuver is complicated, and there are many reasons why. What you learn about velocity and inertia won’t make it into your story, but you will know what you are writing about. That confidence will emerge in the rest of the story.

But science fiction is not the only genre where magic bullets and impossible solutions ruin a story for me.

For example, I am also a history buff. I love historical fiction, but stories set in that genre must also be meticulously researched. History details events that occurred before the present time and accurate information is still available.

Lost_Country_Life_HartleyTake a look around in your local secondhand bookstore. A brilliant source of information on low-tech agricultural life and culture came in the form of a book I found at a second-hand bookstore in Olympia in the mid-to-late-1980s. It was called Lost Country Life and was written by the late historian, Dorothy Hartley. She details how every aspect of farming was done, the wide variety of tools and equipment that everyone knew how to make and use. If you need to know it, it’s in that book.

As far as I know, it’s still available as a second-hand book and can be found on Amazon.

But let’s go back to the future. If you are writing a contemporary sci-fi novel, you need to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society. Go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Big-Name Bookstore and look through the many publications available in their racks.

You can also find many scientific papers published online. But for non-scientists, sites like SpaceX, NASA, and Digital Trends will offer a wealth of information in bite-sized chunks and give you leads about where to look next.

Fairy of Eagle Nebula By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fairy of Eagle Nebula By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Most importantly, if you hope to write hard sci-fi, you must read that genre. Examine their content. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the era of classic science fiction is today’s current tech. See what other writers think will be the technology of our future.

Talk to scientists. Email them and tell them what you are writing and ask them questions. Many will help you because they don’t like mushy science.

We may be fiction writers, but we are also disseminators of information and dreams. No matter what genre we are writing in, we want the reader to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the story. If we do the proper research, we remove one barrier to the success of our work.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Physics,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Physics&oldid=1109211521 (accessed September 13, 2022).

Fairy of Eagle Nebula By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Research and Development #amwriting

I love learning how other authors work. I recently watched a 2015 podcast, Adam Savage Interviews ‘The Martian’ Author Andy Weir – The Talking Room. This is a fabulous interview, where Andy explains his intense research for the bestseller, The Martian, and his writing process.

The MArtian Andy WeirAndy Weir is genuinely a nice person and is the best example of an inadvertent teacher that I’ve ever seen. This interview is a brilliant seminar on how to research and plot a book. He writes hard sci-fi with a heart, but the principles of creation are the same for any genre.

If you haven’t read The Martian, I have to say it is my favorite sci-fi novel of all time. DO PLEASE watch that interview—his method of writing and researching is genius.

Targeted research is crucial if you want your fiction to be plausible. Identify what you want to know, use the internet, ask an expert, and create a searchable file or database of information that backs up your assertions.

Once you establish the technological era you are writing in, you know what you need to research and how theoretical your narrative may need to be.

Here are some of my go-to sources of information. I’ve published this list before, but here it is again:

If you seek information about low-tech societies (the past):

My best source of information on low-tech agricultural (farm) life and culture comes from a book I found at a second-hand book store in Olympia in the mid-to-late-1980s. Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley is still available as a second-hand book and can be found on Amazon. This textbook was meticulously researched and illustrated by a historian who personally knew the people she wrote about.

I also discover a lot of information on how people once lived from the art found at Wikimedia Commons. Under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830), you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters, artists living in what is now The Netherlands.

These painters created accurate records of ordinary people going about everyday life. Their genre art depicts how they dressed and what was important to them in their daily lives.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to bookmark in general:

www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)

Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)

Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

oxford_dictionaryTED Talks are a fantastic resource for information on current and cutting-edge technology.

ZDNet Innovation is an excellent source of existing tech and future tech that may become current in 25 years.

Tech Times is also a great source of ideas.

Nerds on Earth is a source of valuable information about swords and how they were used historically.

If you are writing a contemporary novel, you need to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society. Go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Big Name Bookstore and peruse the many publications available to the reading public. You can find everything from mushroom hunting, to culinary, to survivalist, to organic gardening. If people are interested in it, there is a magazine for it. An incredible amount of information can be found in these publications.

We all agree that while the early pioneers of science fiction got so much of our modern reality right, they also got it wrong. So, we can only extrapolate how societies will look in the future by taking what we know is possible today and mixing it with a heavy dose of what we wish for.

SpaceX

NASA

Digital Trends

If you write sci-fi, you must read sci-fi as that is where the ideas are. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the era of classic science fiction is today’s current tech.

Ion drives and space stations are our reality but were only a dream when science fiction was in its infancy.

Think about it: your Star Trek communicator is never far from your side, and your teenagers won’t put theirs down long enough to eat dinner.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapMAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world, your characters will be traveling in places that exist in reality. You want to write the landmarks of a particular city as they should be, so bookmark google maps for that city. Even if you live there, make sure you write it correctly because readers will let you know where you have gone wrong.

GOOGLE EARTH is your friend, so use it!

If you are writing about a fantasy world, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

Please, make sure your literary murders are done in a way that doesn’t fly in the face of logic. Do the research on poisons, knife wounds, and consider all the possible reasons why that particular murder wouldn’t work in reality. Then write a murder that does work.

Talk to police, talk to doctors, talk to lawyers–many are willing to help you with your quest for accuracy about their professions. Also, you can Google just about anything. Fads, fashion, phone tech, current robotics tech, automobile tech—it’s all out there.

We may be writers of fiction, but we are also disseminators of information and dreams. It’s a big responsibility!

Do the proper research, target it to your needs, and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the many bunny trails that lead you away from actually writing.

 

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Do the research before you do the murder #amwriting

I recently began reading a murder mystery where the author used a mushroom to kill the first victim. That’s where this book fell apart—the idea was good, but the facts and execution weren’t.

Using a mushroom stroganoff to poison him was a poor choice because fungi is an undependable weapon unless you are an expert. Also, individually, one mushroom may be more or less poisonous than another of the same kind, rather like people are. Judging how many one would need to kill a three-hundred-pound man takes more thought than I am capable of plotting out.

Also, it was stroganoff, which is basically beef and mushrooms in a sour cream sauce. This author danced over the fact that serving the food at this dinner party would have been a tactical nightmare. It would have been nearly impossible to ensure the intended victim got the poison mushrooms and no one else did, which is how this murder was written.

Agatha Christie knew that and regularly poisoned entire dinner parties, literarily speaking. Her murderers made everyone at the table sick but only the intended victim actually died.

This particular mystery was set in Scotland, and I don’t know how poisonous their mushrooms are, but I think that logic would hold true there as well as it does here in the Pacific Northwest.

If I hadn’t been on several nature walks with Ellen King Rice, a wildlife biologist and amateur mycologist who writes well-plotted mushroom thrillers, I would have accepted the slightly contrived fatal dinner as written and focused on the other failings of this novel.

This experience reinforced my belief that readers are often more knowledgeable than we authors are. E-readers can do the research just by highlighting the word and hitting search.

For this reason, having a solid base of information to back up what we are writing is critical.

My disappointment as a reader could have been avoided if the author had gone out to several mushroom hunter websites or even if she had found a local person to talk with. With only a small amount of effort, she could have made her plot a little less flimsy.

Targeted research is essential if you want your fiction to convey a feeling of truth. Identify what you want to know, use the internet, ask an expert, and create a searchable file or database of information that backs up your assertions.

Once you establish the technological era you are writing in, you know what you need to research and how theoretical you may have to get.

Here are some of my go-to sources of information:

If you seek information about low-tech societies (the past) :

My best source of information on low-tech agrarian (farm) life and culture comes from a book I found at a second-hand book store in Olympia in the mid-to-late-1980s. Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley is still available as a second-hand book and can be found on Amazon. This textbook was meticulously researched and illustrated by a historian who personally knew the people she wrote about.

I also find a lot of information on how people lived from Wikimedia Commons.  Under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830), you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters, artists living in what is now The Netherlands.

These painters created accurate records of ordinary people going about everyday life. Their genre art depicts how they dressed, and what was important to them.

Talk to police, talk to doctors, talk to lawyers–many are willing to help you with your quest for accuracy about their professions. Also, you can Google just about anything. Fads, fashion, phone tech, current robotics tech, automobile tech—it’s all out there.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to bookmark in general:

www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)

Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)

Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

TED Talks are a fantastic resource for information on current and cutting edge technology.

ZDNet Innovation is an excellent source of current tech and future tech that may become current in 25 years.

Tech Times is also a great source of ideas.

Nerds on Earth has useful information about swords and how they were used historically.

If you want to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society, go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Big Name Bookstore, and look at the many publications available to the reading public. You can find everything from mushroom hunting, to culinary, to survivalist, to organic gardening. If people are interested in it, there is a magazine for it.

We can only extrapolate how societies will look in the future by taking what we know is possible today and mixing it with a heavy dose of what we wish were possible.

SpaceX

NASA

Digital Trends

If you write sci-fi, you must read sci-fi as that is where the ideas are. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the era of classic science fiction is today’s current tech.

Ion drive, space stations—these are our reality but were only a dream when science fiction was in its infancy.

Think about it: your Star Trek communicator is never far from your side, and your teenagers won’t put theirs down long enough to eat dinner.

MAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world and your characters will be traveling, walking a particular city, or visiting landmarks, bookmark google maps for that area and refer back to it regularly to make sure you are writing it correctly.

USE GOOGLE EARTH!

If you are writing about a fantasy world and your characters will be traveling, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer back to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

Do the right research, target it to your needs, and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the many bunny trails that lead you away from actually writing. And for the love of Agatha Christie, make sure your literary murders are done in a way that doesn’t fly in the face of logic.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Steen, Dutch (active Leiden, Haarlem, and The Hague) – Rhetoricians at a Window – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Steen,_Dutch_(active_Leiden,_Haarlem,_and_The_Hague)_-_Rhetoricians_at_a_Window_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=355150081 (accessed September 10, 2020).

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#amwriting: do the reasearch

People always ask what you do for a living, as we are a society of people who define ourselves by our occupations. For many years, I was a bookkeeper, and also, I worked in data entry for several large corporations. Before that, during the 1980s and Reaganomics, I worked as a hotel maid, a field hand, and had several other odd occupations, often holding down three part-time jobs.

When you tell people you write books, they are, generally, interested. When you tell them you write speculative fiction, you get a range of reactions, from pitying condescension to confused, but sincere, respect.

Sometimes people laugh and tell me how easy it must be since I can make any old thing up and it will fly. Despite the old saying that “in wine there is truth,” nothing could be further from the truth.

Readers know when you have gone off the track and into the shrubs of “that can’t possibly happen.”

This means you can’t just make any old thing up because world building must combine enough realism with the created world to make the fantasy plausible. It involves research.

I spend hundreds of hours researching the most trivial details for every book I write. If I get it wrong, it’s because I failed to do the research in the right place.

In the process of writing Huw the Bard and the subsequent stories set in that world, I’ve learned as much as many medieval scholars about how people dressed, what they ate, how they earned a living, how they preserved food and every intimate detail of their lives that is researchable.

I know all of this because I read scientific papers written by experts on the subject, all of which are available to us via the internet. My files are full of the fruits of other people’s efforts, with the sources documented and the authors credited, so I know where to go to find out more if I need to. Lists of links to websites for further research is critical because when one book goes to press, a new book is already falling out of my fevered mind and onto the paper.

Readers are smart. If something is impossible, and you don’t somehow make it probable, you will lose your readers. The best way to make the impossible probable is to mix your fantasy with a good dose of real history. Be historically accurate as often as you can, so that when your blacksmith makes a weapon, readers who know about smithing will not be jarred out of the story by inaccuracy.

Most of the time, these things you spend untold hours researching will only get one line in your narrative, but if that line is inaccurate or impossible, your readers will know you were too lazy to do it right.

The following is my short list of go-to websites for in-depth, accurate information for when I am writing, including grammar questions. They are self-explanatory and are easy to make use of. Submit your questions via their query box and, while figuring out what you really need to know may take several tries, you will soon have answers.

Medieval Histories  http://www.medievalhistories.com

Academia http://www.academia.edu/

NASA https://www.nasa.gov/

Physics http://www.physics.org/

Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Grammarist  http://grammarist.com/

I’ve learned a great deal from reading the literature of medieval times. If you really want to know how people lived, read a modern translation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. They were bawdy, irreverent, and loved nothing more than a good joke.

For example, if you are writing a story set in a medieval environment, you may need to know what clothing the common European people wore in medieval times. Or you might want to know what their home looked like, or a village. For that, I suggest you seek out the art of the Flemish Painters. There you’ll see what men and women looked like and how they dressed, both for celebrations, and for working. You will see what their towns looked like, and the public places they gathered in. The interiors of their homes are also found in the great Flemish painter’s works.

Any time you want an idea of average European village life in the Late Middle Ages through the 17th century, you need to look no further than Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters. These were artists living in what is now The Netherlands, and who were creating accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, along with stylized religious images.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Peasant Wedding (1526/1530–1569) via Wikimedia Commons

They painted their subjects with a heavy dose of religious allegory, but that was a part of village life—both the Inquisition and the Reformation were under way, and the politics of religion was in the very air they breathed. If you are going to write medieval fantasy, you must understand how strong the influence of the Church was and how entangled it was in politics. You must inject that religious realism into your work, and show how the Church, even a fantasy religion, and its politics affect the common person’s life.

My regular readers know I love the work of one family of early Dutch painters from Flanders, the Brueghel Family. Five generations of their family were well-known painters and printmakers.

The internet is your friend, and researching your fantasy novel can be incredibly entertaining. Research is what slows me down more than anything. I spend far too many happy hours on Wikimedia Commons, looking at 16th-century Netherlandish paintings.

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#amwriting: When reality meets fantasy

800px-Flexham_coppice_bluebells

Bluebells in Sweet Chestnut coppice at Flexham Park, Bedham near Petworth, West Sussex, England. via Wikimedia Commons

Over the weekend, I discovered how to make charcoal, in a sustainable way, learning how it was done in medieval Europe. Of course, I learned about this by going to the internet, to one of my favorite go-to sites for research: Medieval Histories.

I’ve read before about how the massive production of charcoal in the Middle Ages was a major cause of deforestation—everyone needed it to heat their homes, and entire economies depended on it.

However, as time went on, people learned how to create sustainable sources of wood for both firewood and carpentry, by coppicing. Coppices were cut and regrown cyclically so that a steady supply of charcoal would be available.

Archaeological evidence for this style of forestry management goes back 5,000 years in England. Timber in the Sweet Track in Somerset (built in the winter of 3807 and 3806 BC) has been identified as coppiced lime trees (also known as linden or basswood).

According to the Fount of All Knowledge, Wikipedia: Coppicing is an English term for a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after some years the coppiced tree, or stool (what we think of as a stump), is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.

So, in doing research for a tiny portion of my new, just begun work-in-progress, I learned something new.

Over the years, when I tell people what I write, some have laughed and said I’m lucky I write fantasy because I can make any old thing up and it will fly.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I spend hundreds of hours researching the most trivial details for every book I write. If I get it wrong, it’s because I failed to do the research. In the process, I’ve learned as much as many medieval scholars about how people dressed, what they ate, how they earned a living, how they preserved food and every intimate detail of their lives that is researchable.

I know all of this because I read scientific papers written by experts on the subject, all of which are available to us via the internet. My files are full of the fruits of other peoples efforts, with the sources documented and the authors credited so I know where to go to find out more if I need to. Lists of links to websites for further research is critical because when one book goes to press, a new book is already falling out of my fevered mind and onto the paper.

Readers are smart. If something is impossible, and you don’t somehow make it probable, you will lose your readers. The best way to make the impossible probable is to mix your fantasy with a good dose of real history. Be historically accurate as often as you can, so that when your blacksmith makes a weapon, readers who know about smithing will not be jarred out of the story by inaccuracy.

Most of the time, these things you spend untold hours researching will only get one line in your narrative, but if that line is inaccurate or impossible your readers will know you were too lazy to do it right.

This is my short list of go-to websites for in-depth, accurate information for when I am writing. They are fairly self-explanatory:

Medieval Histories  http://www.medievalhistories.com

Academia http://www.academia.edu/

NASA https://www.nasa.gov/

Physics http://www.physics.org/

Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Grammarist  http://grammarist.com/

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69)

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69)

I’ve learned a great deal from reading the literature of medieval times. If you really want to know how people lived, read a modern translation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. They were bawdy, irreverent, and loved nothing more than a good joke. If you want to know how they dressed, look no further than the “The Wedding Dance” a literal painting, steeped in allegory by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The internet is your friend, and researching your fantasy novel can be incredibly entertaining. For me, that is what slows me down more than anything. I spend far too many, but happy, hours on Wikimedia Commons, looking at 16th-century Netherlandish paintings.

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