Monday, 25 May 2020

She plays the guitar. He runs with the wolves.

How many of you spend hours and hours researching what vegetables commoners would be able to afford during winter in the 18th Century, or how bad the storm was in January of 1956, in Sydney? What about how long the average person can hold their breath?

As a writer, we are always researching something, whether you’re a romance author, historical-fiction author, non-fiction author or fantasy author. 

Photo by Te NGuyen on Unsplash

Why do we do research? Are we trying to answer the hard questions? Sometimes, maybe. Are we trying to create a world where our readers feel like they’re living and breathing the story we’ve created within the pages? Absolutely.

In order to make your story believable, we need to research as much as we can. You don’t want to see my Google history … really! But sometimes, I think research can only take us so far.

I write mainly Fantasy and Science Fiction. A lot of the things I’m creating in my story, I have to imagine. No one can say they know what it’s like for a dragon to breathe into your face or what its scales feel like. These things can only imagined, but sometimes taking examples from our experiences can help bring these to life.

As writers, we need to go out into the world and experience as much as we can. I would never have known the satisfying pain of accomplishment you get in the tips of your fingers if I never started learning to play the guitar. I thought it was just about learning the chords, but it’s hard to get your fingers into those positions when you’re not used to it and after playing for ten minutes (I’m still learning), the strings dig into your fingers. I now have this wonderful experience I can write about.

If you’ve never watched True Memoirs of an International Assassin, you really should. He’s the type of writer I want to be. I want to make sure my story rings as true as it can and in order for me to do that, I believe I need to experience as much as I can. You can only empathise with someone if you’ve gone through something similar, so wouldn’t it be the same writing a book?

You’re not going to be able to experience everything, I mean as much as I want to know how painful it would be to get shot in the arm, I’m not going to go out looking to get shot. 

If your character likes to ride horses and you’ve never ridden one, go and find a place where you can learn to ride. If she paints, make a day of it. Experiment with oil paints and watercolours. If he’s a hacker, there are always some courses on the internet to teach you how to code. 

Don’t just research your stories. If you can, why not make that big batch of jam your nana is making in your story. You’ll experience the heat from the pot and the sticky, sweet aroma first hand. You’ll know just how sore your arm gets from stirring and pouring all that jam in the jars.

Go on. Get out of your chair and stop relying on Google so much. But before you do, let me know what amazing talents and experiences you already have in the comments below. 

What is one thing you’re going to experience to help your WIP come to life?

K.A. Hart is a born and bred Territorian who moved to Queensland and had no choice but to stay after her assimilation into Toowoomba's infamous, collective known as Quirky Quills.

Since then, K.A. Hart has had two short stories published. Stone Bearer, appears in Glimpses of Light and Tedious Tresses, in the As Time Goes By Mixed Blessings anthology. She is currently working on a fantasy novel.


  1. Yep, Kirsten, I've made a few big batches of jam in my time when we lived in South Australia and had massive apricot and nectarine trees! And I studied three languages all at the same time as part of my degree at Qld Uni many years ago. And I've been to Turkey five times and had all sorts of adventures there with a friend. So if any of these things are helpful to writers out there, please feel free to pick my brains! All that aside, I enjoyed reading your post--thank you. Re helping my current WIP come to life, just recently I knitted something to help me remember that sense of fulfilment of creating something with needles and a ball of wool. Well, that was my excuse anyway!

  2. Great advice, Kirsten. I do tend to rely a bit too much on the internet. Setting and description are my weaknesses. Ideally, it would be great to go to the actual locations. My upcoming book's set in Nova Scotia and I have been there a couple of times, but that was before I got the idea for the book. I would have so loved to go back while I was writing. Google can show you what a place looks like, but it can't show you what it's like to actually be in the middle of a North Atlantic gale and having the rain slap your face.

    I'd like to do a lot more 'experiencing' for the next book. One of the characters is a photographer in 1896, so maybe I can find somewhere where I can handle old cameras. There will also be some harness racing, and I've never been, so I should at least try to go and watch some. It won't be the same as 1896, but it would be better than Google alone. Thanks for the nudge.

  3. Fabulous blog, Kirsten, on a topic well worth pondering.

    There's no substitute for actual experience in creating a true affinity for and with our characters, though I'm thankful we're not dependant upon perfect precision - we might not survive to tell the tale. I've had a sore nose for a week thanks to an infected coldsore - given the associated pain level from all those nerve endings, I am soooo glad I've never been punched in the nose (though one of my characters has been). I'm feeling decidedly more empathetic towards him right now!

    I've harnessed elements of my Aussie travel and ministry experiences, plus those gained while living in different cities/townships, when developing settings and scenarios. Made at least one dedicated field trip (at the right time of day), taking photos, to get the setting and atmosphere correct for one particular location critical to a major plot point. Personal interactions can add valuable insights into the human psyche. Google Earth can be a helpful substitute for cash-strapped would-be adventurers. And I sat through an entire season of Opal Hunters in the name of research for a future novel. Still wish I could travel and walk the land, though, smell the heat in the air and taste the dust ... dig up an opal worth a mint and be able to finance further travel ;)

  4. Great blog, Kirsten. There’s so much truth in what you say. No experience is wasted for a writer. The other week I had to go to the emergency department at our local hospital to get something checked out. While I was there I was committing to memory how the bed felt, what I could hear and what kinds of people were around the place. I was fine but if I ever write a hospital scene it will now be more realistic. And if ever I write romance I can describe some verra nice Scottish doctors.

  5. Sound advice, Kirsten. I don't think it would be wise to look at my Google history either, LOL.

    As for living the experience, YES! I get this isn't always possible, but my writing research has seen me hoist a square-rigged sail. (I now have great appreciation for the value of sea shanties in coordinating tasks aboard!) I've dragged my family in the footsteps of my characters, from landscapes as vast as Brisbane's CBD to the Scottish Highlands. And I love the examples you've given about learning guitar (fun times for fingers) or making jam with a grandparent. These kind of immersive experiences can really bring our stories to life, if we draw on what we've learned.

    I look forward to "experiencing" dragon interactions in your next novel. (Guess that explains the singed spots in your lawn? 😉) Thanks for an informative and practical post.