Research is an essential part of writing. You may be writing fantasy set in the land of never never was, but unless you’re explicitly turning off the laws of physics and not drawing on any of humanity’s stunningly rich mythological background, you risk flubbing something dramatically that will break reader’s suspension of disbelief – and not realizing it.
I could cover this page with text on the importance of research, but that’s not overly useful to anyone. So today is a quick blurb on just how you do it, plus links.
Wikipedia is a fantastic starting point. If you just want the appearance of realism or are skimming the surface of a myth and don’t need to go into very much detail, you can even end there. Don’t do that for a university paper though, they don’t approve. And with good reason – wikipedia is an informal source, and while useful cannot be considered definitive or reliable.
What wikipedia is great for is refining your searches. Since wikipedia will cover the wide breadth of your topic, you can use it to find keywords to refine your google searches to be more likely to bring back what you want.
Because, yes, the next step is google. With the search terms you gleaned from wikipedia, you should be able to bring up several useful websites. Like with wikipedia, you have to be aware of the quality of your sources – higher quality sources (like .edu university sites) are more likely to give you solid, useful, information, but are also going to be drier and harder to read. On the flip side, an amateur site might be amazing to read and have tons of useful information, but without checking their sources you don’t know how reliable they are.
Obviously, reliability is not as big a deal here as it was when I was learning to research, but old habits die very hard. Knowing something about the material (hence reading over the wikipedia article) gives you a much better ability to pick out whats useful.
Hopefully this is a useful on the process. It’s the quick and dirty summation of a two hour university lecture I received at least three times.
To be more helpful, I’ll close with two links:
http://world.guns.ru/ I discovered this site a while back and haven’t really needed to go anywhere to research firearms. The site has both English and Russian pages, and its occasionally obvious the English pages were written by someone who was a Russian native speaker, but the scale and detail of their information is impressive.
http://tvtropes.org I meant to link to this site with the Identifying Themes post. The TV Tropes Wiki pulls out a lot of the tropes – pieces of story and ideas that the viewer is likely to recognize on the spot – and spreads them out for your edification. Warning though, this site can and will eat much more of your time than you think.
Until next week,