Not Your Usual Information…

Being a writer requires an odd conglomeration of random information.

I suppose I first figured this out at twelve. You never know when an understanding of the feudal system, a basic knowledge of meteorology, or another synonym for blue might come in handy. So, I began collecting information, not only in my head but in a notebook.

Looking through that notebook now makes me laugh. The front section is filled with detailed descriptions of sensations. The tingle of opening pores, especially on the upper lip, when sitting in a hot car in the dead of summer. The disorientation of nearly fainting. The tensing of internal organs while plummeting downwards on a roller coaster. The back is filled with a list words from Saxon, Norman, and other medieval languages; details about the clothes from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance; and other random bits of information I had acquired.

But collecting details — thorough details — about a single time period isn’t odd. Neither is holding onto things I learned in school. (In fact, my mom — my teacher for most of my life — would be proud.) It’s some of the extra things that I began looking up as I grew older.

Last week, I spent about twenty minutes to figure out how far someone could walk in a day. The distances on the map of the world I created are not in miles but in “a day’s journey.” To my high school self, this made perfect sense. After all, there must be an average pace, and using it as a measurement meant not having to decide between creating my own unit of measurement or breaking down and using miles. The trouble is, I recently needed to know what that distance looked like to know how large an island is. In searching of fitness websites, I stumbled upon a forum of writers asking the same question, which made me laugh. I suppose I’m not the only one who needed to know that fifteen-ish miles was reasonable, especially since my characters favor traveling on horseback (and do so often).

I learned about tetanus a few months ago because I feared that one of my characters might catch it from a puncture wound. Fortunately, the wound was only in one draft, so no one had to endure the potential of serious muscle spasms or high fevers.  

A few years ago, I needed to know about stab wounds. What would be fatal, what would be debilitating but not deadly, and what would be considered minor. As a fellow writer, you understand why you’d need that sort of information — to make a story more believable. But with every website I checked, I wondered what the FBI would think if they knew what I was reading. Especially since I had recently looked for how far someone could fall without being killed from the impact.

What is the strangest bit of information you’ve collected as a writer?


7 responses to “Not Your Usual Information…

  • The Nate Gatsby

    I wish the only requirement to being a good writer was collecting an eclectic knowledge base, because I would have that covered. It seems like only the random subjects and facts firmly implant themselves in my mind.

    • Bryna

      Thanks for visiting! It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s so easy to recall details of Greek mythology and the history of skeleton keys… not quite so easy with things people normally ask. :)

  • C.B. Wentworth

    For my most recent project, I had comb through early mythology surrounding Muses, Greek names and what they mean, and the symptoms of pain medication addiction.

    For my first novel, I had to extensive research non-digital photography. I learned everything from how to develop film to the inner workings of a Lecia M Series 35mm camera.

    I love how writers end up with some of the strangest combinations of knowledge!

    • Bryna

      Non-digital photography? How fascinating! All of my knowledge about that came from when I was ten and armed with a camera. My parents always reminded me not expose the film to light again because I wouldn’t immediately get a replacement for a ruined roll. :)

      I love Greek mythology. That must have been a delightful adventure!

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    Nothing too esoteric. The effects of poisons. The consequences of some wounds (I write mysteries). Floor plans of Episcopal churches. I’ve pestered friends for translations into French and shorthand.

    Very wholesome, really. :-)

  • C.B. Wentworth

    I am amazed at the odd information writers find themselves researching. :-)

    For my first novel, I had to research everything about non-digital photography. I learned everything from how to develop film in a dark room to the inner workings of a Leica M series camera.

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