Monday, June 22, 2009

AMAZING Research Methods

Time for another ride on the blog chain. Kat started things off this time with these questions:

How do you do research for your settings, your story and your characters' quirks? What interesting tidbits about yourself and the world you live in have you learned along the way?

My immediate response was, "Well, I don't really do research." However, being towards the end of the chain this time around, I've had a chance to rethink this while reading through the responses of the other blog-chainers (from Christine, Michelle, Elana, Annie, and Caroline). While many talked about the kind of research that requires paging through large dusty books with a highlighter, many others opened my mind to alternative research methods.

So, that brings me to:

"Kate Karyus Quinn's AMAZING Research Methods."
(Feel free to print this out and highlight the really good parts)

#1. Living my often random, sometimes boring, but always uniquely mine LIFE.

Yes, I count the very act of breathing as research! And this means that I am researching ALL THE TIME!!! With thirty years of experience under my belt, I have to say that I am getting rather good at this type of research.

Being an over-achiever I began this research right at birth, unfortunately my note-taking techniques were not what they are today, so some of the very early information was lost. However, here is a sampling of some of the information that during my first decade or so:

-Experience of having four sisters. Having the foresight to be second in the birth order, I was able to see sisterhood both from the angle of the being the younger and older sister.
-Experiencing Catholic school from Kindergarten to Eight grade.
-Experience living in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Cold snowy winters, short humid summers, and a lifelong obsession with a losing football team.

Of course, as I grew older, I was inspired by Mark Twain who had held many different jobs and drew inspiration from them for his stories. With this in my mind I began my first official job at sixteen at a Boston Market restaurant. I stayed there for almost two years, and to this day it is the longest I have ever managed to hold down a job. From then on, in the name of research (and my need to have money to live and stuff) here is a sampling of the jobs I worked some for months, others for weeks, and um, one or two, I might have lasted only half a day. These are not in chronological order.

-Restaurant hostess
-Teacher Asst.
-Low-Level Office Stooge
-The Gap
-Day-Camp Counselor
-Night time Janitor
-Niagara Falls Tour Guide
-Asst. in theatre Costume Shop
-Factory worker
-Person who sits at the seasonal calendar kiosk at the mall
-Grocery store cashier

The experience I received during these jobs is more than what I list (or more often conveniently leave off of) my professional resume; it is also the different people I met and interacted with at each of these jobs whether they be co-workers or customers.

#2. READING and Internet surfing.

I am not a big fan of just sitting and thinking. Instead I prefer to be constantly doing something, or preferably two or three somethings at once. If I were an outdoor enthusiast I would probably jog and knit at the same time, but since I am more a fan of activities that allow me to stay in a climate-controlled environment, my preferred mode of entertainment is reading. I read books, magazines, newspapers, and whatever strikes my interest on the Internet. It turns out that there is a lot that falls into this last category, and that provides a good deal of my research.

For example, I read an article with the headline: "Mom Taught Her 2 Kids to Fake Retardation" online way back in 2007. I thought it was interesting, and might even make a cool story so I bookmarked it. The idea continued to bubble away at the back of my brain, and while I didn't take directly from this story, there are definitely traces of it in my current WIP where my heroine is a con-artist who was raised by her rather shady family.

Mostly I'm drawn to these types of human interest stories, but I also pick up little tidbits on the various writing and cooking blogs that I follow.

#3. Traditional research aka I GOOGLE.

Yes, there are times when I go digging into my brain for information, and my brain is like, "Um, am I supposed to know that?" At times like these there is no alternative but to Google. Oh, and I should also give Wikipedia a shout-out, cause that is usually the first Google result that I end up clicking on.

Again, for my current WIP, which is an Urban Fantasy, I had some demon stuff I needed to put into it. Perhaps it is due to all those years of Catholic schooling, but my knowledge in this area was pretty much limited to what I had gained during obsessive Buffy the Vampire Slayer watching. I ended up doing quite a bit of research that mostly consisted of me cutting and pasting stuff I might find helpful into a Word document. Most of this information I didn't end up using, but some of it did eventually find it's way into my story.

I also use Google Image Search quite a bit when I need to describe something, but I just can't get a good picture in my head. Sometimes it's something as simple as the exterior of a Jeep, but at other times I need to know what someone's neck would look like after they've been choked almost to death or what an eyeball that's been pulled out of it's socket looks like (these last two were problematic in the extreme since I have a very low tolerance for gore, but in the name of research I peeked out from between my fingers and clicked on.).

And that's pretty much it. I'm sure there are many more ways that I research without even knowing it, but since my son woke up from his nap early I have to go continue my research on how to be a mommy to a toddler boy.

In the meantime I'd love to hear about the different ways that you approach research. Is it a chore or something you love? Do you find yourself using stuff from your life, what you learn in books, or a mixture of the two?

And to read the final entry in this chain head over to Mary Lindsey's blog.


  1. I love this post...probably my favorite response so far. I think we all should remember how much living on the planet as a curious entity has taught us :D Nicely done.

  2. Hi - thanks for visiting my blog. Always fun to meet new writing/blogging friends :D

    I just finished a historical novel...that was a TON of research. I am excited about my WIP because it is not historical, but more along the lines of 'life experience' research you talk about in this post. That's way funner stuff.

  3. Excellent post, Kate. Made me think back over all the jobs I have had in the past, my siblings and family experiences which is all fodder for research and writing. I'll have to start writing notes down in a notebook.

  4. You had me laughing all over the place!
    And great tips. Living and Google, is there anything else a writer needs?

  5. Dude, this is so my kind of research. My life, what's going on around me, etc. If there's something I have to know that I don't, I google. This post should have been mine - you are so wise!

  6. Wow great post. Really a Niagara falls tour guide? That sounds too cool!

  7. I think I probably mix the two. I like looking stuff up 'cause I'm curious.
    You're so funny with all those jobs! LOL

  8. I write historical, so my books are ALL about research. In fact I spend hours and hours and hours researching, which is what I'm suppose to be doing right now! Thank goodness for Google books, which allows me to browse through ancient books! And for interlibrary loans. And for great biographies. I love it! But there are times when I'm in the midst of it, when I'd rather be writing!

  9. Christine - Yes, and I am a very curious entity;)

    Tess - Thanks for the comment! I cannot imagine what an undertaking a historical novel must have been - seriously, I shudder at the thought!

    Robin - Writing past experiences down for the future is a great idea - I never think to do this, but I know I have old diaries from when I was younger that I can always go digging through for inspiration.

    Annie - Glad you got a giggle from my research silliness;)

    Elana - Yeah, I think we are soooo on the same wavelength when it comes to research.

    T.Anne - Thanks! Yes, it was a summer job that I had one year during college. It is amazing all the random facts I now know about Niagara Falls.

    Jessica - I think a mixture of the two is the best way to go!

    Jody - Hours and hours researching!!?! That is one too many hours for me;) But I am glad that someone likes to do it, because I love to read historicals, I just have no interest in writing one.

  10. Super post. I love it when people draw from their own experiences for writing. What might seem mundane to the writer might seem exciting to the reader because everyone is unique. Thanks for the reminder!

  11. The one thing about motherhood--as soon as you've researched one stage, the kids move on to a new one.

    Living is definitely the most important research tool there is!

  12. How fun. I don't really want to remember all the stupid jobs I've done, but your right - research baby! :)

  13. lol google and basic breathing - the best research in the world! :D excellent post!

  14. Life is definitely some of the best way to research. (It's certainly my favorite.)