Research isn’t so bad. Experience it!

It’s one for the writers this week. When the need for boring research arises, do a thousand other more interesting things you should be doing spring to mind? Stuff like learning Welsh, cleaning the oven or starting that pin collection you’ve always wanted?

Granted, some research can be dull but other bits can become fun by simply getting involved. Being interested in your subject matter helps (if you’re not, question why you’re writing about it) and opens doors to some interesting experiences. Experience is the operative word here. Since I mainly write fantasy, I have plenty of scope for hands-on research.

Much as I can’t transmute like a Sentinel (I’ve tried—nothing) or talk to a goblin, I can ride a horse. A few years of experience later (it didn’t need that much but I enjoyed it so why not) and I feel confident that I can write about riding, horses and related things with some accuracy. It is one thing to see riding on television but to experience it is a whole other matter. You’ll find that animals have their own personalities just like your characters do and storylines grow from this.

As a second example, I wanted to learn more about medieval defences, soldiers etc. To that end, I went to a re-enactment at Kenilworth Castle (yeah, the UK is awesome, we have these things all over the place) and gained far more than I had hoped. I watched a siege re-enactment (albeit scaled down), attended a talk on weapons and armour and wandered around the camp. The guys doing the re-enactment were approachable and a wealth of useful information for a writer dealing with fantasy armies. Better still, after a few choice words, one of the re-enactors let me try on her armour, shield and sword. Nothing compares to feeling the weight and restrictiveness of that kit and it enhanced my writing no end. Martial arts already gave me access to a bunch of weapons—in the safety of the correct environment, I hasten to add—but armour made all the difference.

Of course, it’s not always battles and talking warrior-maidens out of their armour. We do, however, live in a golden age of information with the Internet at our fingertips wherever we are. It is worth checking your sources as websites like Wikipedia can be a double-edged sword but with some perseverance and web skills, you should be able to find the answer to even your most obscure questions. That should at least take some of the pain away. If nothing else, it’s a great excuse for dubious web search history. I lost an entire evening researching corsets for Forshai Rising (decided not to experience that one first hand though) because there’s some terminology you really don’t want to get wrong! Research, I swear…

 

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