A friend of mine recently shared a “Top 10 Tips” for dealing with a writer. One of them was “Don’t call the police if you happen to see a writer’s browsing history.” I admit, my searches for information have included topics such as preserving a severed head in honey, methods of “brainwashing,” tactics of guerilla warfare, and how much pressure is needed to crush a human skull.
Writers look up more mundane information as well. I once spent a great deal of time calculating the weight and volume of different water quantities–a subject that would only cross the minds of folks hiking long distances. But if writing about traveling between wells in an expansive desert, that information is critical. The reader might not know how much a day’s worth of water weighs, but will certainly roll his eyes if a character trudges across the sand for five days with only a little canteen.
Sometimes, though, research reveals details that run counter to “prevailing wisdom.” Most people have heard two things about water and survival: you need a gallon of water per day, and will die in three days without water. Aside from the fact the two contradict each other, the basic information is far too general to be of any use in specific situations. Yet I predict someone, somewhere, will one day write me a letter saying my worldbuilding was wrong because one character took mere hours to die without water, and another survived on less than a gallon of water a day for a week. I could either adjust the details to fit what “everyone knows,” expend words in the story explaining what the real details are, or accept the fact that someone, somewhere, won’t like the way I use water regardless of the realism.
I’ll take Door Number 3.
For more detail-chat, here L. Blankenship discusses her research behind heavy-gee corsets. The coolness of researching corsets rates far and above the mass of water, does it not? (Note to self: reconsider character costume choices.) Check out her other worldbuilding posts for neat stuff.
Research matters. Details aren’t little things. They are instead the most important pieces of a story’s living, breathing world. Handled well and properly, the reader need never “appreciate” the writer’s research. She will instead love and embrace the story.
And the writer will now purge her search history. 🙂