Sunday, October 10, 2010

Don't Judge My Book By My Search Terms

This weekend, I visited a local park to do some research.  I’m writing a scene that takes place on a hiking trail, and I needed to get the feel of the place solidly in my mind.  It’s not like I’ve never been hiking before, but nothing compares to writing fresh off of an experience, while the smells and sounds are still vivid.

I try to write mostly about places I’ve actually been and things I’ve actually done (except, you know, the whole telekinesis thing), but it’s not always possible.  When I can, I tap into the varied lives of my friends and family members.  People have gotten used to me calling them up with random questions.  Recent example: “Dad, remember that fishing boat you had when I was a kid?  What was the hull made out of?” 

Then, there’s the library.  For one of my early projects, my main character worked for an antiques dealer, and I spent a day in the library thumbing through Miller’s Antiques Price Guides from the past fifteen years.  (I had not, before then, known Miller’s Antiques Price Guides existed, but let me tell you, they are COMPREHENSIVE: porcelain cow creamers and gentlemen’s portable writing desks and art deco jewelry…)  I could have found a lot of this stuff online, but I wanted to pick up the physical books and leaf through them, so I could find things I wouldn’t have known to look for.

That said, Google is hands-down my most heavily used research tool.  I Google my characters names to make sure I haven’t subconsciously named them after celebrities.  I Google weather patterns for the cities where I set my action.  I Google set pieces I’ve dreamed up to see if they exist somewhere outside my imagination.  If the US government is watching my computer, God only knows what they think I’m up to.  Things I have Googled (for a number of different projects) include:

injectable CNS depressants
best candles healing rituals
Coleman lanterns
antique tortoiseshell box
surgical sutures
how to fake your own death
how much does a log weigh**

Given this list, I’m clearly planning on faking my own death and setting up a clandestine log-cabin clinic in the woods, combining traditional medicine and witchcraft.  Huh.  Sounds like fun.  

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever Googled for the purposes of research?

**This one got me to an awesome online calculator that will tell you how much your log weighs.  You put in the length, diameter and type of tree (there are, like, 100 options), and it gives you back the weight in pounds!  Honestly, how cool is this?  Okay, it’s not very cool.  But it was useful.  If you need to know how much your log weighs, I suggest following this link.


  1. I was just laughing about this very thing the other night. I googled "names for Satan" and "mythological creatures" along with "orbs of light" and "wraiths"...and my absolute favorite..."third world torture techniques".

    I swear, if the government seizes my computer I'll be burned at the stake. Witch hunts will open again and I'll be first in line...right beside you! Hey, maybe with what you've learned we can tell how much the logs they'd use to burn us weigh...and then I can create an orb of light and we can fake our own death! LOL!

  2. Those are GREAT! I'm tempted to try "orbs of light" myself just to see what I get.

  3. This post reminds me of an amazing book that makes me wish I were a mystery writer.

    I frequently google "what does ______ smell like," just to see if people have interesting takes on what something smells like. I suck at describing smells.

  4. Oh my goodness that book is awesome. I must use it, somehow, some way. Just because you aren't writing a mystery doesn't mean you can't poison someone.

    I suck a describing smells, too. Great tip!