Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Researching The Impossible

Let's face it, researching in person isn't always possible for a myriad of reasons. I don't know about you, but the vast bulk of my research is done via the internet and books. It's amazing what you can find on the internet -- not just facts and figures, but so many amazing things that you and I might never get the chance to experience in person. For instance, take a look at this (be sure to click on the image and move it around--in particular look at the ceiling). Tell me you didn't just imagine yourself as the pilot or commander of the shuttle with an emergency and having to remember which switch to flick. (o-kay, just me then...)

This is all well and good, but what do you do when you need to research something that doesn't exist? Anyone writing paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction understands what I'm talking about. Although, if you're writing hard SF you're probably trying to extrapolate as much as you can from what's considered possible in science today (and good luck with not driving yourself crazy with that).

I'm currently writing steampunk romance and my story has an emphasis on fantasy rather than science (though that's in there, too). How do you research ray guns and aether and clockwork familiars? Well...you don't. You can't. Contrary to what I'd really like to believe, they don't exist.

What you can do is research technology that you plan to use that does exist, along with just about any other topic that might be useful. Look, In the last few months I've read more than I should probably admit about a lot of topics: airships, European royal families since the 1600s, history of ferries, steam engines, physics, electricity, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Caroline Herschel, comets, Queen Victoria, and the nature of invention, just to name a few.

Mostly I needed to know what is (or what was) in order to figure out what I wanted to change for the alternate history of my story world. Turns out I changed a lot of things. I still think it was easier to create my story world this way than to build a world out of whole cloth, but your mileage may vary.

That can only go so far, though. What about all those gadgets and widgets and clockwork devices? What about the magic? This, quite frankly is where I step off the Research Bus into terra incognita and, ahem, Make Stuff Up. There are rules to how magic and technology work in my alternate world and I try to make sure that the Stuff I Make Up doesn't violate those rules. So long as there's internal consistency, I'm good.

So there you have it -- I research the impossible by Making Stuff Up! There are days, though, when I really, really wish that ray gun actually worked...


Genene Valleau said...

LOL, Deb! I love to make stuff up!

Enjoyed the tour of the space shuttle. HOWEVER, I have to agree there are TOO MANY gadgets and switches, and those seats look very, very uncomfortable. I didn't imagine myself as the pilot, but was already redesigning the interior to be more comfortable, and labeling all those switches.

Thanks for sharing!

Sarah Raplee said...

LOVED the space shuttle, and so did my fifteen-year-old granddaughter.

Maintaining that internal logic and consistency in your story world can be really hard at times. Ah, world-building; thy name is Conundrum!

Paty Jager said...

Great idea! I like making stuff up. Fun post!

Sarah Raplee said...

Deb, please email me, as my sister has been trying to get ahold of an officer in order to join MWVRWA all month, and no one responds. She wants to take a class, too. Please help! sarahmcdermed@yahoo.com