One of the things—among many, I guess—that I like about writing is the research. I see authors complaining about it, but I’m not sure why. Sure, it takes time away from actual writing, but so what? What’s better than learning something? It’s not like this is high school where you have to research things you couldn’t care less about. If you’re putting it in your story, chances are you’re interested in it in some way, so researching it should be interesting.
For instance, I recently wrote something of an introductory short story for a shared world project first proposed to me by Casey Cowan, Creative Director for Oghma Creative Media and my boss. One of the things we’re doing is trying to revive the western. We’ve made a start on it with the e-zine Saddlebag Dispatches, which is already getting some notice. An article was written about it on nawonline.com, our local news page, and the Western Writers of America, as well as some award-winning western authors, are sitting up and taking notice of it.
Casey and I were sort of brainstorming at his house one day when he asked, “What would attract people to westerns?”
Long story short, we developed a western series idea for multiple authors to write about that we think will attract attention. Our characters aren’t your typical—or I should say stereotypical—western characters. Sure, those kinds of people will be in our story, and our characters even appear to fulfill the stereotypes. But once you see what’s going on, you’ll realize they’re not what they appear.
I don’t want to go any farther until we make an official announcement about the project, but suffice it to say I had to do a bit of research to get some historical facts right.
I’ve always loved history. Most people consider it boring, I guess, judging from the reactions I get when I say I love it, but that’s okay. For me, it helps me learn why we’re where we are today.
One of the periods I’ve always loved in particular is the 1800s. All that expansion into the west, the stories of the men and women who ventured out into what was, for them, the equivalent of outer space (they just didn’t need EVA suits), fascinates me, both on the fiction and nonfiction level.
I read lots of Louis L’Amour when I was a teenager, and his writing instilled in me a love of the west equaled only by my love for fantasy lands such as Middle-earth. For me, the Rocky Mountains, the wilds of Montana, the southwestern deserts, the Indians who peopled the area and posed yet another challenge to settlers, it’s all fascinating, and I can get carried away reading about these people.
Louis L’Amour did lots of research to write his novels, so I feel when I read one of his books, I’m getting an accurate portrayal of people back then. Yes, he romanticizes it, but so what? That whole period is a romantic one, or we wouldn’t have such an endless fascination for it as a nation. It was unique in history, and I doubt we’ll see another one like it until we finally venture out into space.
And that one may well be endless, for all practical purposes. Western expansion was limited by the Pacific Ocean, for the most part. But expanding into the galaxy alone will take us thousands of years, at a minimum. And then there’ll be all the other galaxies out there. And, who knows? If the quantum physicists are right about parallel universes, this could go on literally forever.
But back down to earth.
I went on a small spate of research back a year or so agothat had nothing to do with what I was writing at the time. It started with me watching Band of Brothers. That got me interested in World War II, so I watched The War, the Ken Burns documentary. That got me interested in Ken Burns documentaries, so I watched Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery as well as The Civil War. The man knows how to make an interesting documentary. I’ve just reserved his documentary The West at the library.
So, research doesn’t have to be dreadful. I realize there are times we’ll come across things in our writing that’ll be boring to research, but for the most part, we should be writing about things that interest us in the first place, so the research should be interesting too.
Or maybe I’m just an über-nerd.