The Dealio About Research

Here's the thing about research, when you think you've asked all the questions and then hung up the phone another questions pops in your mind.

After talking to a nurse, a fireman, an EMT and a cop . . . sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it? Anyway, after talking to them, I mulled my story scene over in my mind.

And then I realized my character lives in the country. Would they be using natural gas or propane gas?

I knew most natural gas lines can be cut off at the meter, which would make sense to put it closer to the main street. But who would actually be the ones to turn the gas off? First responder, as in police officer? Or fireman? I'd guess fireman. It doesn't really matter in the point of view of the character I'm writing, but it's a nice piece of info to tuck into one of the dark recesses of my mind.

Besides I don't want a second explosion because I hadn't thought this through.

But what about propane?

I know nothing about propane gas, other than it's liquid in a compressed form, so I texted my bro-in-law--I was at my daughter's swim practice, so I knew I couldn't hear him if I called. He lives in the country. He knows tons of stuff about everything.

--Question: So do you have propane gas or natural gas at your house? With whichever one you use is there an automatic or manual shut off valve? I need this for a story I'm writing. Thanks

He calls me the next day. "Are you trying to blow up a house?" he asks.

"Why, yes, yes I am."

"Does my brother know about this tendency of yours?"

"He doesn't have a clue. It's safer that way."

And then my BIL proceeds to lecture me on the merits of well gas, natural gas and propane. Everything from the weight of the gas (which I happened to know--probably due to all that chemistry I took in college), to the nozzle size needed to connect to the plumbing in the house, to a house blowing up in the old neighborhood he lived in.

Now my BIL is passionate about his topics. It doesn't matter what the topic is, he's passionate, which means I couldn't get a word in edgewise until about the fifteen minute mark when he took a deep breath.

I explained to him that I don't need the details of nozzle size since I don't plan to go into the schematics of this issue . . . and I was writing this story from the viewpoint of a 12-year old. A kid doesn't care about this stuff, but THE WRITER HAS TO KNOW THIS INFO even if it will never be used.

My friends, writers only use 2% of the information they garner from research, if that much. We don't spew it out in excessive detail, but we use it to color our story with words and depth. We need to know the logistics of a scene for us to write it in a way that is logical to the reader and the characters in the story.

A 12-year old will view a particular scene one way, but the same scene from the eyes of a police officer will be very, very different.

So when I write the scene from the 12-year old's viewpoint, I need the cop to act like a cop would act in the same scenario.

Every character does a dance that pertains to that character's backstory and job in each scene. If a character acts 'out of character' there had better be a very good reason for the behavior. Many times, it's lack of knowledge on the writer's part, or laziness, but it could also be a 'red herring' the author is setting up.

So if you happen to know a writer who stares out into space for inordinate periods of time and then blurts out, "I wonder how hard it would be to get my hands on some curare?" or "I wonder if you can milk a black widow spider for its venom?" or "If I shoot a .44 from the distance of 20 feet would I literally blow someone's head off?" 

Don't worry about it that's just the writer working out the logistics of a scene . . . or not.

Later, Peeps!


Meg said...

Don knows all too well the strange questions I ask. If he sees that gleam in my eye, he usually gets out of the way.
We do get lots of strange looks.

Margaret Golla said...

I have to admit that I was very pleased with the people who helped me with this scene. They all took my questions in stride and gave me great answers even when I was organically rearranging the scene according to the info they gave me

Marilyn said...

LOL. I asked Bob last week what's the best way for an amateur to blow up a car. The one bad result I got: years ago I had a character die from a car bomb. Because his daughter was first on the scene, I wanted to know what would be left. He came in later with one of his forensic something-or-other books and set it in front of me, open to photographs of remains of people killed by car bombs. Yuck. Waaay too much info for me.

Margaret Golla said...

Yeah, body pieces are low on my list of things to find. Just having to take an arm from the surgery window to the Micro walk-in fridge was bad enough . . . There you have it--fun and games on the night shift!