1. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    "Hands on" research, or google?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by The Tourist, Feb 5, 2013.

    In another thread we were discussing writing and possible simplicity. I thought about my writing, and methods we use for research.

    For example, my research does use the word "method" in its more basic form. I own, use and maintain the objects my characters manipulate. If a character wears Wrangler or H-D jeans because they're more comfortable for sitting, it's because I have done the same. If my lead character uses a ZT0551 to slice something open, you can bet I carry the same knife.

    But I am now relying on the speed of Bing and the videos on YouTube. I can witness the experiences of other owners as they operate with the items. I can even hear mechanisms working, and I incorporate the clicks, crunching and pinging into the plot.

    Many times I describe this process to other writers when I see decriptions which are not a proper depiction of the item. Lots of times I'm told that the story-line is the important concept. Whether the tool works or not is ancillary.

    What are your thoughts? Should I find a tar pit and just end it all? LOL.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    doing research is so easy nowadays that i don't see any real need for a writer to own all the items written about, in order to describe them accurately...

    besides the internet, one can always go to a walmart or whatever and jot down specifics about pretty much anything, after a hands-on inspection...
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The children of the Internet have latched onto online research to the exclusion of in-person research. Yes, online research provides unprecedented access to information. But it's a shallow exposure, unlike the full immersion of personal experience.

    You can use google to virtually cruise down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Massacachusetts, and see real storefronts, and real crowds. You can visit restaurants and coffee shops through their websites. But none of that prepares you to walk into Mary Chung's and order their Suan Low Cha Show. None of it prepares you for the sounds and smells of Central Square, and the snatches of conversations of the Harvard and MIT students (separated, thank you!) as they unwind between classes. Immersion is a wholly different experience than browsing.

    You can read gun specs and watch youtube target sessions, but that won't convey the feeling of loading a magazine in 30 degree weather with stiff fingers, or the pulse of recoil when you fire a Ruger at a piece of plywood with a target crawled on it with a Magic Marker, or the blended fragrance of cordite and gun oil and steel.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I definitely agree with Cogito.

    Whilst the internet is great for finding out quick little details and dates on which certain events happened, I still have a mass of research books in my home for more in-depth study on specific topics, and if necessary then I would physically ask an expert or go to a place in which my book took place.

    Overall, the internet is a useful gadget, but can be unhealthy if used all the time (much like microwave meals and oven pizzas: great once in a while, but a lot of the time you just can't beat a home-cooked dinner made from scratch!). :)
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The internet is an excellent tool, with the caveat that one has to be a little more careful about source reliability. Writers can't always experience the things their characters do or the places they go, and the internet is great for finding first person accounts and finding contacts who can answer questions. I've had wonderful dialogues with snipers, Vietnam vets, train-hoppers, etc.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The story line is the important concept, but a writer too lazy to research - who makes too many errors - undermines his own story. The internet makes basic research easy, so there really isn't an excuse, in most cases, for getting basic facts wrong. (Tourist mentioned in another thread that he saw a TV show in which someone fired six shots from a five-shot gun; that kind of thing is avoidable and should be avoided.)

    On the other hand, some kinds of research are simply impractical. Yann Martel, in Life of Pi, describes a teenager surviving 227 days in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. How do you research that? Did Martel get himself a lifeboat and a Bengal tiger and survive 227 days in the Pacific Ocean in order to write about it? Of course not.

    You research what you can. You trust your imagination, and your rational mind, to fill in the rest.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Ha! Love that Minstrel.
    I'm on the fence about research. Too much detail can bog the pace of a novel. Who wants to read six pages of gun cleaning
    techiniques or worst yet - war information in a historical romance packaged with a busty wench and a sweaty hunk whose
    britches are unlaced? Too little research however and the writer looks foolish & lazy ( but not half as much as the publisher. )
    I like it best when the writer seems to know what he's talking about but doesn't go on a brag-fest
    cramming in every detail he's researched. Many a story has been bogged down by irrelevant detail. It's quality
    of detail not quantity.

    My research technique is reading anything about the subject be it non-fiction or fiction, checking out the internet
    and if possible field work.
    The novel I'm working on right now starts in a sewer - I'm skipping the field work on that one! Lol.
     
  8. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Thanks, guys. Clearly there are some things you cannot research, or you are writing about an historic time, like our Civil War. If I can find the object, I'll use the real thing.

    Other issues are available. For example, if your character is running through the jungle, I can tell you what muscles pushed to the limit feel like. I know what diesel fuel smells like on the highway. I have clothing dating back to the early sixties, and photos to boot. These things have little or no cost, but could make our stories have an authentic feel.

    Right now I'm nursing a cut under a thumb's nail and into the soft tissue beneath. I think I can relate the "bamboo under the fingernails" ritual in very dramamtic terms! LOL.
     
  9. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I incorporate a lot of things I have first hand knowledge of in my writing too, but I do most of my research on line. However, there are only limited number of experiences I've had in my life so far, I better use them to the full advantage. For example, my character lives in London, which I don't know very well. So I'll give her a grocery store and a burger joint that's open until 3am from where I once lived, I think it'll fit nicely. It's the same with all universal experiences.

    The thing is, like someone said, too much detail bogs down the story. But I need to know all those details so I can pick and choose a few to make the scene more authentic.

    I find that I want to hold in my hands the instruments, though. In the current book I'm writing, the murder weapon is a specific knife, crkt Shinbu fixed blade. I never held that knife and I was considering actually buying it, so I can get into the head of my villain. Alas, you can't easily buy it in the UK :(
     
  10. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    When it comes to research i use the internet books and magazines, and if at all possible i do my own hands on research. For example if a character in one of my stories or books uses a certain gun i know of several good gun shops that will have that gun in stock i will go down to the shop and physically examine the weapon myself.
     
  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am among the some of this/some of that group. Research is my friend! But, sometimes there are situations where I just want to really know the subject matter more intimately than Google can offer. And then too, sometimes it is my knowledge of a particular subject that leads me to write a particular project. I doubt I would ever have written my first thriller had I not learned to fire a 9mil - or to break it down and clean it afterwards. There is something about that more visceral connection that changes your awareness of the object or place or whatever. Of course, I still rely heavily on two dimensional research but my research is, as I noted previously, a blend of the cerebral and the physical, each on an as needed basis.
     
  12. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    In an odd twist of fate, my lead character does own a Shinbu. I picked it for the way it looks, myself.

    @thewordsmith, you report the tail wagging the dog. Instead of having literature open a door to research, holding the prop started you writing. I believe in this as a mentor, that is "get out into life." I think your life will be richer, and my guess is that you'll try more things in the furture.

    @mg357, it's nice you have a place near you for hands-on research. We have saloons and bike shops in my area, but very few upscale theaters, opera houses or ballets. My lead character never goes into those places, and I wonder if my lack of knowledge there influenced the flow of the story (?)
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I typically end up with ten times more research than what goes into the story. I may have 2-3 pages of notes on something that takes up exactly one sentence in the story - but I had to know that 2-3 pages to make that sentence work (and all that occurred afterward).
     
  14. niallohagan
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    niallohagan Member

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    Obviously its great if you can research hands on but there are some situations where thats impossible. Examole, the story I am working on involves an IRA volunteer. Ive no experience what thats like or what the initiaon process is like so for that I will need to do online/book research
     
  15. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, considering an IRA is a plan to allow your money to grow tax deferred and sometimes tax free, it seems to be a weak plot point. It was established sometime in the early 1970s and pretty much runs by itself. The only problems stem from pension plans being underfunded or companies going under. Is your lead character an accountant?

    I would switch the character to an assassin for the Irish Republican Army. You wouldn't have to change any of the initials in your book, there is the possibility of more action, and totin' a loud rifle has more pizzazz than drawing remuneration under a government sanctioned retirement plan.

    When in doubt, go with something that goes "bang."








    Yeah, I'm kidding. :p
     
  16. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    IMO a good writer uses all the tools he has, life experience, other peoples experience and some of those cant be researched as nothing can replace first hand experience, the internet offers huge knowledge and a good writer should know to use it too... personally am very thankful for it

    read once an interesting theory, that said if a man form the 50's timetraveled here, what would be the hardest thing to explain to him?
    -That you have a small device in your pocket that has access to all the knowledge you want
    but you use it to look at funny pictures and argue with people you will never see
     
  17. niallohagan
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    niallohagan Member

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    haha, very good
     
  18. PenTrotter
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    PenTrotter Member

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    bing? really? google FTW! But yes I agree the internet is so much more useful for research
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The Internet is fine. For some things you really need a comprehensive textbook to get a consistent view of a complex topic. The Internet offers you bites, but sometimes you need to understand the entire progression from moo to stew.
     
  20. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    "... from moo to stew"? That's got to be the most priceless "I've never heard that before" lines I've evere heard. Love it.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks. I coined it about two hours ago. :D
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'boo!' re your 'moo to stew'...

    signed: a moral vegetarian :p
     
  23. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    As opposed to an immoral vegetarian?

    (sorry, couldn't resist)
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I pretty much expected this reaction, Maia. But you don't have to attend the feast to recognize the stages of processing involved. And I didn't see any comparable and concise expressions for a lentil bake.

    Besides, you may be a vegetarian, moral or amoral, but I have no qualms about my place in the food chain. :)
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'twas just joshing, amigo... it was a clever coinage, indeed... but not one i can take pleasure in using...

    'moral' in all ways, thank you, ed! ;)
     

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