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7 9 2010
To write a book, I need to have a basic understanding of many things. I generally need at least 30 minutes of research for anything I put into a story. If I'm not already familiar with the topic, that increases to an hour.
Take a house. Maybe 15-30 minutes of research. But if I’m talking about a massive ancient temple, I need to answer all sorts of questions to be able describe it properly.
Is the place falling apart?
What parts are most likely to fail? Doors? Walls? Ceilings? Floors? Support structures (such as pillars)?
Does any of this change when its built free standing? Into a mountain? Underground? Is it more likely to suffer degradation from water damage or from the sheer passage of time?
Do gothic churches outlast pueblo adobe cliff villages?
And most people know more about buildings than many possible topics. Everyday people live, work, shop, and travel in and around buildings. We’ve seen lots of them, see how they get destroyed, and have seen damaged building.
How about combat? The closest I’ve come to combat would be being in a fight with someone, or else in wrestling. Needless to say, neither of these two really give me writable background.
I may need to define/explain military structures, weapon systems, tactics, and more.
Military structures are a bit easier, partly because we hear about generals, captains, and sergeants in movies more often than we get much information about cavalry charges and phalanx formations. I’ve talked to officers and enlisted soldiers. I’ve never met someone who worked in a phalanx.
I have to know, how fast can a phalanx move? What sort of equipment would they be carrying for a short or extended deployment? What does their equipment weigh? What does it look like? How does a formation like that move? When it moves, what are the problems with moving, and how might they be exploited?
What weapons were traditionally used in (or against) a phalanx? Were weapons developed later on which might have been more effective than the normal pike/spear? Would a Halberd work better than a pike? And really, what IS a halberd or a pike? Why would one or the other have been used? What were their strengths and weaknesses?
The questions spiral out of control. I look up all sorts of things about tanks, artillery, and what generals want when making one compared to what designers want.
What is desirable in a good tank? Speed? Armor? Range? Electronics systems? What have they considered for possibly making it better? What would they like to do with it but haven’t? How would doing something like putting a missile package on it change its function?
Thankfully, in fiction, I can use Wikipedia. I’m not exactly citing my sources. Yes, it can be innacurate, but generally, nerds who put wrong information on wikis do not edit glaive or bill. Which were both things I looked up at one point.
It goes on and on and on. I read things by some authors and I wonder to myself “Hmm, why would they do X instead of Y? Did the author even check?” Any time I find myself wondering about something in my own writing, I go look it up.
Generally this takes between 4 and 16 hours a week. Many times I will hunt through 30-40 websites looking for references to my topic. From time to time I find the name of a book discussing what I’m dealing with and then see if it’s at a nearby library.
That’s really all I have to say. I spend ridiculous amounts of time looking things up, and sometimes I have to wonder how much of it will get used.