Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Weirdly Specific Knowledge

     As any writer of fiction—especially perhaps of historical fiction—can tell you, research is a key element in the writing process. I wasn’t always as stringent in my research standards as I am now (a failing that does haunt me a bit) but one thing I’ve always loved about the research stage is how odd and unusual history can be.

vintage calling card, via Days of  Elegance

     In fact, it’s given me what I call “weirdly specific knowledge” because I might not be able to give you a run-down of every major world event in the 1800s, but I sure can describe to you in great detail the multiple layers of a woman’s attire or the perils of the childhood death rate in Victorian London. My current novel involves a main character who owns a stationery company in the early 1900s: therefore, my computer screen is packed with internet tabs on calling cards, mechanical pencils, and chromolithography. A couple weeks ago I finally had cause to research that clichéd staple of the mystery writer’s repertoire: poisons, more specifically arsenic. I also now know enough about the early years of the American Mafia to annihilate an entire Jeopardy category on the subject.

     Still, I think the strangest thing I’ve ever googled in the name of research was “history of eyebrow plucking.”

     So…as this is one of my favorite topics, what’s some of the strangest or most surprising things you’ve ever found yourself researching? Or, what is a fascinating tidbit you’ve found unintentionally during your research?

8 comments:

Jenelle Leanne said...

I once did quite a bit of research into the history of sewer systems and specifically man-hole covers... for a project I was beta reading for another author. LOL Definitely the weirdest research I've ever done.

E.F.B. said...

My story research can be pretty random sometimes. Yesterday I was researching lords and their vassals. I've also researched medical practices/supplies, chivalry, and compliments from Medieval times, clothing and hygiene from various eras, various mythological creatures, signet rings and which finger on which to wear them, and various fairy tales and Shakespeare plays. (those last two I researched at the same time for the same stories) And I know it takes about an hour for soaked clothing to dry in direct sunlight on your averagely warm day. I don't know that any of these are weird on their own, but they are weirdly specific. At least they shouldn't get me on any government watch lists, unlike some other writers I know. xD

Lady Nefertankh said...

Let's see, I think one of the weirdest things I came across recently in my research (a novel set in 1780s Europe and America)is that during (or before) the American revolution, lawyers were a bit rare in frontier areas. So rare, that sometimes the a lawyer found himself having to argue for both sides of the same case!

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I once spent an evening reading 19th-century manuals on horse doctoring, so I could write a brief conversation where a couple characters needed to (intelligently) discuss treating a sprain.

I'm researching the US Navy in the Pacific during WWII right now, and I've accumulated so much miscellaneous detail about the ships I'm studying, and navel warfare in general, which will likely never make it into my novel but which I find fascinating. One of the more random bits: apparently a common injury among pilots forced to ditch their planes in the ocean was having their front teeth knocked out, and if they returned to their carrier with teeth intact they would celebrate the fact with their buddies.

Hayden said...

Jenelle: haha! I bet Victor Hugo would be proud :)

E.F.B.: Oh, the medieval time period is such fun! And I love signet rings.

Lady Nefertankh: I never knew that! That could really be used to great effect in a historical novel.

Elisabeth: Okay, I am really glad I am not a WWII pilot, haha. That's always kind of a bummer though, when you find out so many interesting historical facts and you know you can't fit all of them into your novel!

Elsabet said...

Once upon a time, while researching WWII, I discovered an event involving the USS O'Bannon, fondly known as the "Potato Incident." A Japanese sub came along side the destroyer and the American deck hands threw potatoes (being the closest thing on hand) at the Japanese sailors who were manning their sub's deck gun. The Japanese thought the potatoes were hand grenades and were so busy throwing them off their sub that they were soon annihilated by the O'Bannon's guns. The Potato Growers of Maine sent a plaque to commemorate the event.

Hayden said...

Elsabet: That's a great story! It sounds like one of those "stranger than fiction" moments!

Hamlette said...

I did a bunch of research into medical practices during the American Civil War recently, especially pertaining to amputation. Oh boy, was that fun :-b

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