Lost in the Jungle
Do you like to do research when you’re writing? Sometimes, I get so involved in research that I don’t get much writing done. How about you?
I might write something like, “A sharp rap on the door interrupted the silence. Which one was it this time? She raised her hospital bed up.”
“Okay,” I tell myself. Maybe there’s a more specific way to show her raising the hospital bed. So, I stop writing and look up “hospital beds.” Several pictures pop up, showing the wonders of their particular brand of hospital bed.
Hmm. I see some words that I might be able to use –“powered rotor assist bed,” “Gel mattress.” Bed exit position” I tell myself I should look that up and see what I can find out.
I decide to look up “mechanisms on a hospital bed.” It says, a mechanism for raising and lowering the height of a patient bed includes a threaded shaft upon which a pulley support is raised and lowered and a chain and pulley system which transfers vertical displacement of the pulley support to the patient support surface.
I never was good in Physics class but I can imagine a pulley system. I’m not sure I will use any of this, but who knows? On another site, I find out that mattresses are on sale for $899. Interesting, but will I use it in my story? I hold on to the tidbit because I may write something later where this information be useful.
An option I could’ve selected while looking up the mechanisms for the beds dealt with grandfather clocks! Soon, I find myself clicking on various sites to see what other useless information is out there. I’m an optimist and jot down notes “just in case” I want the information later. I’m a hoarder of information.
We’re Dying Here!
Meanwhile, my characters are waiting. My story is stagnant, gathering dust. I’m the cheating lover who steps out on his girlfriend. I’ll get back to the story eventually, but for now, I want to play around, checking out sites like guys check out the girls in a bar. Which site do I like best? Does it have words I can use? Or a “friend” I can check out? Will this be a one night stand or am I likely to call on this site again?
Research is important. I found that out when I wrote a story with Native American characters. I felt I was fairly familiar with Native culture and customs, having grown up with some Lakota from the Pine Ridge reservation. I wrote a scene that included a powwow. Luckily, I had a colleague who spoke Ponca and Omaha, even though she’s an Italian from New Jersey. She read my story and told me really messed up the powwow scene.
“It’s called ‘regalia’ not ‘costumes! It’s an insult to call what they wear ‘costumes.’ Costumes are what you wear when you’re Batman on Halloween!”
She told me that I had the description of the scene right, but I needed to change the word.
“Every feather, bead and color have meaning,” she said. “Usually related to ancestry or heritage.”
Even though I’d watched You Tube videos of powwows, I still got an important part wrong.
Even Successful Writers Need to Research
Michael Crichton was one of my favorite authors for years. Loved all his books. I remember reading a medical mystery he wrote. I think it was A Case of Need. I enjoyed reading it for the most part, but I also lost some of my respect for Crichton when I read about a meconium aspiration baby. I’m a former NICU nurse and I took care of many babies who’d breathed in meconium as they were born, so I recognized what Crichton wrote about–a critical situation that can take days to resolve. Some babies die.
However, Crichton got the medical part wrong! I was disappointed because it seemed he didn’t do his research or had consulted with a “professional” who knew nothing about babies and the birthing process.
The internet shouldn’t be your sole resource for research. You can start there and get some ideas, even pick up some cool words to use that you hadn’t thought of. But, you need verification from other sources as well. Had Crichton checked with a neonatalogist and/or an obstetrician and then did follow-up, having them read that part to make sure it was accurate, his story would’ve rang true.
So, do your research for a better story. Add details that you discover as your research your setting details, your character details and your action details.