Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Practical Author

First of all, I'm tremendously flattered to be asked to guest blog for Kepler's books. Second, hello there and hi!

Since I just got back from a rock-climbing expedition (I am a not-particularly-good rock-climber, if you wondered) and since rock-climbing is a skill I learned on behalf of a character, it seems logical to me that tonight I should talk about the practical aspects of research for the writer.

One of the interesting things about being a writer is that you have to know--or at least be able to fake knowing--all kinds of stuff about all kinds of stuff. Quite regularly, I am called upon to discourse on the finer points of animal husbandry, forensic pathology, piloting aircraft, middle management, swordfighting, BASE jumping, maintianing a marriage--

--it might surprise you to know that I am not a qualified expert in any of these fields.

I am, however, perfectly capable of reading books and calling up actual really real credentialed experts and throwing myself upon their mercy (you'd be surprised how many people are thrilled to be asked to calculate the destructive potential of a nickel-iron meteorite at two in the morning). I am capable both of reading some ten thousand pages of text to discover that apparently nobody knows the answer to the historical question I need fielded and so making it up out of whole cloth--and of electroplating a mono-molecular layer of research all over my fiction to make it look like I did my homework.

I am also capable of getting up off the couch and going out and actually learning something, when it comes right down to it.

In the past thirty years, I've learned to ride a horse, rock-climb, kick-box, throw a pot, work-harden wire, swing a sword, shoot a bow and a gun, play guitar, and crawl through caves on my belly, all in the service of fiction. I'm not actually any good at any of those, but it's amazing how much more convincing just getting the texture of the thing in your hand makes the writing. (I draw the line at BASE jumping. That one, I'll place phone calls for.)

This last Worldcon, I was privileged to be at a table with a bunch of other writers comparing notes on the dumbest thing we've done for a story (tie: Steven Boyett (hang gliding) and Walter Jon Williams (cave diving)) and it was actually kind of a relief to realize that it's not just me. A lot of my writer friends consider my boots-on-the-ground technique a little excessive, but I find that for me it leads not just to richer writing but also more ideas. Because every time I learn something, it gets added to the pile of things in my head from which stories spring, and that in itself is kind of awesome.

1 comment:

  1. I totally understand the "hands-on" research method. If you don't know how something feels to actually do it, how can you effectively write about it. My co-writer is an ex-Marine and he is going to take me shooting on my next trip to the west coast so I'll know how a gun feels in my hand when it fires. Very cool.