From Book View Cafe, this post by Phyllis Irene Radford: Research Rabbit Holes
Research can be a wonderful tool for bringing a sense of veritas to fiction writing. I had to research why glass would be the most precious commodity in the epic fantasy world of The Glass Dragon, when silicon is one of the most abundant elements in the known universe.
Research can also be an end in itself.
We all know people who have researched a book for ten years or more but can’t write the book because they haven’t done enough research. They could write a doctoral dissertation, but there is more to research to do for the fiction book.
I have a feeling that research addicts have fallen into more than one rabbit hole…
Don’t you like the idea of having to figure out why glass could be precious when silicon is super, super abundant? I think that sounds pretty neat.
My favorite completely useless tidbit I have ever encountered, for the Black Dog series: Did you know there are actually a lot of different kinds of marble, many of them quarried in Vermont? For example, it says here:
The famous Danby Marble Quarry in Vermont’s Dorset Mountain has been producing breathtaking marble for over 100 years. In fact, it was the first marble quarry in the United States and it’s the largest underground marble quarry in the world!
There are eight different types of Danby Marble and some are said to rival the most beautiful Italian white marbles. One side of the quarry yields Imperial, Eureka, and Royal Danby marbles. On another front you’ll find Mountain White, Olympian White, MontClair, Crystal Stratus, and Applachian Gray….
This is not the sort of detail that’s likely to make it into a book, except maybe as a very tiny throwaway detail, but marble is such beautiful stone.
Most entertaining research: I really enjoyed poking around looking for ways to blow cars up by shooting them. Spoiler: you really can’t unless you have a special gun or have prepared the car first. This segued into how to make explosives out of common household items. Probably I’m now on some watch list, who knows. Also, no, I didn’t personally confirm that you can make a napalm-like substance from sugar and citronella oil. It sounds reasonably plausible on the website I was reading, which was good enough for me.
Most extensive research: everything about materials science for Land of Burning Sands, obviously. This was the book I used for that, which I had read for fun a year or two earlier, which is why I thought of that whole idea in the first place.
Most recent research: the construction of Mongol bows. Thanks, Google! I could have gone downstairs and picked up Gordon’s book again and looked it up, because he absolutely covers the topic of bow construction, but I didn’t really care about the details, just the basic materials used, so Google was faster.
Amount of time generally spent on research: For me, this is not really a rabbit hole. A few minutes, generally. If I’m looking at maps and calculating distances, or looking at the street view of a town, then longer, obviously, but not much longer. This is not the kind of thing I would get lost in.
If an author spends ten years researching something rather than writing, I think you can fairly say that this person’s hobby is research, not writing. Or worldbuilding, not writing. And that’s fine! Look at Tolkien! Or for someone who never actually writes the novel, that’s fine too! Everyone needs a hobby.
But if you fall too far down this rabbit hole, then yeah, you are not going to get the book written.
2 thoughts on “Falling down the rabbit hole”
Of course there’s always the discovery that blows a story out of the water.
Yep, whoops! Suddenly you need to find a different way to get from the scene where you are to the scene you need to write, perhaps with much less idea how to get there.