The best writing of all comes from personal experience: “write what you know” is advice I’ve heard way more than once. But sometimes you have to admit you don’t know everything. You may know how your character would react to a break up…but not necessarily the way ancient Romans would express heartbreak. Or, you might want to set your story in Dickensian London…but don’t know the vernacular of the time. Sometimes, you just need to research something. And writers today are lucky; at the tip of our fingertips you can research just about any topic out there. You name it; you can find something about it on the internet, and lots more things you never even thought to think about.
When writing my YA novel, The Rose of Coracus, I’ve done my fair share of research online. Although my novel takes place in a fantastic quasi-medieval kingdom, I want some elements to be relatively historically accurate. Or, at the very least, I need the right vocabulary to describe types of dress, medieval warfare or architecture. I spent one afternoon looking up medieval castle floor plans…you’d really be surprised what’s on the web!
Sometimes, though, research takes you a bit further than a simple Google search. I’ve made more than one boyfriend jump when they see “babynames.com” in my research search history. Calm down guys, I’m just researching character names! (Side note: I really do love character names that have an additional meaning or ones that help further detail the setting/culture of the novel. For example, I named all the characters of a particular ethnic group linguistically similarly: female names end in –a or –i, and often come from Eastern European or Balkan backgrounds. Details count, even ones that your readers might not be consciously aware of!).
This past weekend, though, my research reached a new high…or low…depending on how you want to look at it. I attended the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park. Now, I’ll admit, my not-quite-entirely-inner nerd has always wanted to attend a Renaissance Faire, just to see what it’s like. But when I realized that this past weekend’s event would actually be beneficial to my manuscript, I had to attend. I was most keen on seeing medieval combat in action; it’s pretty darn hard to describe action realistically and dramatically if you don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like in the first place! The highlights were that some people were dressed in what I imagine to be realistic costumes, I heard unique music (with instruments I’ve never seen before and might now include in my manuscript), and saw medieval blacksmithing techniques (key because that’s the trade of my main character’s father). Overall, the Medieval Festival was interesting, although geared more towards kids than I would have liked, not all that authentic (there was a Quiddich match…cool, but probably didn’t exist in medieval times) and I missed the jousting…but I did see a real live unicorn! All in all, it was a cool experience on a beautiful fall day that at least got me thinking in the realm of medieval-ness.
The next book I write, though, I think I’m going to set in an ancient Scottish castle or Prague or an exotic Polynesian island. Cause a research trip couldn’t hurt. ;-)