Tag Archives: research

Google Can Take You Anywhere

A few years ago I heard a successful author say that you should have unique setting for most of your novel. Don’t use the same setting too much, especially in a fantasy or sci-fi story where you want to create a continuous sense of wonder for the reader.

As I wrote the first novel I wanted to publish, I took this to heart. Each time I had a new scene, it would be in a different place. It worked for the story, because the characters were on the run much of the time.

The story, New Sight, takes place in the western United States in modern times. Easy for setting, because I didn’t have to make up a bunch of world building rules and such. I remember pulling up Google Maps and charting where I wanted my characters to go. I needed a place of some mystical value, and I Googled that as well. When I had a basic roadmap, I started looking for interesting things in or near the places I wanted to use.

I found a hotel in Colorado that is an old drive-in movie theater. They’ve built it so that you can watch a movie through a huge window in your room while you’re lounging on your bed. I used this in one version of my story, but it didn’t make the final cut. Still, I may use it later for something else. Curiosity piqued? Check it out here.

I found out that Las Vegas has a hidden society of poor people living in the storm drains under the city. Yes please, totally used this. Sort of. Here is the article that my sister sent me after we’d been talking about it.

I found out that a little-known hike in Canyonlands leads to a place called Druid Arch. Some people think it is of mystical importance. Score!

That’s just a few examples. I’d been to Las Vegas, and didn’t end up using the hotel, but I wanted to go to Druid Arch. It took me a few months of getting into better shape, and one failed attempt due to stupid snow in April, but I finally got there.

I’d searched for info on the hike, and had found pictures and descriptions of it. Which gave me a good idea of what to expect. I dragged a few friends along with me. We only got lost once or twice for a few minutes, but in the end made it.

It was so fun seeing the place for myself. Feeling it. Smelling it. Hearing it. I added a few new details to the scenes I’d written there before my final manuscript went out. And, after I got my rights back from my original publisher, I used my own photos on the new cover. With help from an actual artist, of course.

It’s not always practical to visit the places you use in your stories, but at least take the time to Google them. You’ll be amazed at what you find from interesting landmarks to urban legends to people in the sewers.

June Wrap-Up!

Hey Folks,

I’d first like to thank every one who contributed a post to this month, Fictorian and guests alike!

The idea of a month devoted to not just research collection (because we’d like to spend more time writing instead, right?), but also some new concepts and ideas we might not have thought of to apply to our stories, thus making them more believable, realistic, or even helping us think of what might be true in the future.

Overall, I hope that our information was useful.


Some of my favorites (and there were many), in no particular order:

I started us off with a discussion on why realism and accurate information was so important in media.
Mostly because I was chased by a black bear once, and man, was I ever glad I read Little House on the Prairie.

Buuut also you know not everyone in your story is going to know the most accurate information, or maybe the readers are so used to an inaccurate trope that realism would cause them to cry foul. So sometimes perfectly accurate information isn’t the most important thing to the story.

Kristin Luna explored how gender can influence perceptions of risk-taking characters, particularly young women. We take risks! But perhaps not in the same way as young male characters might.

Guy Anthony De Marco gave us a 101 on proper terminology and use of firearms. Particularly, please don’t have your character take the safety off the revolver unless they’re removing their finger from the trigger. Just…why.

Marta Sprout wrote an excellent guest post on how crime scenes should, and shouldn’t, be investigated.

Kim May implored us to do our research on the particular culture of an Asian character instead of writing them into a stereotype. 

If we don’t care enough to get it right then we offend readers of that ethnicity — thus losing them as readers — AND we mislead and misinform the readers who aren’t familiar with that ethnicity. Also, by misrepresenting that group we’re ultimately contributing to the cultural oppression of that group — even though we don’t mean to.

I shared how to look for, and write about, a character drowning. Also please watch out for everyone at the pool. Even if they’re a strong swimmer. But especially watch the little ones because I had to pull a kid out who was panicking and that was so scary for them. Pools are supposed to be fun and safe summer memories.

I also wrote about the moving definition of ‘death’ and that lead to a whole exploration of what exactly cryonics are, how it all works, and what one might do with that sort of technology in their story. 

M. J. Carlson gave us a Top 10 list of the most used (and misused) injuries in fiction in his very informative guest post.

Mary Pletsch talked about how misconceptions about the military and soldiers can not only lead to inaccurate plotlines and failed missions, but contribute to ugly misconceptions around real service members.

Nathan Barra had so much on how one can accurately portray scientists outside of the stereotypical tropes that he had to split it into Science Fact and Fiction Part 1 and Part 2.

In Healing in Science Fiction, Jace Killian emphasized how quickly technology can change, and the importance of doing your research on current issues when anticipating future technology.


That’s what we have for June! Stay tuned for an interview with an amazing person tomorrow and check back in July as we discuss genre!

– Emily Godhand

Advanced Google-Fu

Anyone can go to Google and search for a particular piece of information. Sometimes they luck out and find what they were originally looking for, while other folks end up getting sidetracked by a website full of cute fluffy kittens.

As authors, we tend to have limited resources, particularly time. Using efficient search techniques, our precious time can be spent on writing the next chapter instead of searching for details on how you remove the clip from an AK-47 assault rifle.

Google engineers and coders included many advanced search operators when they built their search engine. Using operators, we can focus our search on very specific terms or files.

Here are a few of the common operators:

  • + The plus sign indicates something is required.
  • – The minus sign indicates something is to be excluded from the search results.
  • (x|y) Groupings – in this case, “x” OR “y”, are acceptable.
  • inurl: Something that is part of a website URL.
  • intitle: Something from the title of the web page
  • filetype: This indicates the result should be a particular file type.

Going back to our example, I put in the following search term:

filetype:pdf +(ak47|ak-47) remove clip

In English, the search term means:

Find an Adobe PDF file that contains either AK47 or AK-47, plus the words “remove” and “clip”.

On the first page of the results, I discover a PDF document that not only shows how to remove the clip from an AK-47, but how to do a complete teardown for cleaning (with plenty of photographs for those who are not familiar with the rifle.) Excellent! Now your zombie killer can clean her AK-47 properly.

Let’s try something that can be useful for the average author. I want to find pirated copies of a novel. We’ll use Stephen King’s novel, “Under the Dome”, as our test subject.

My very focused search term is:

inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:”index of” +”parent directory” +description +size +(mobi|pdf|azw|epub) stephen king under dome

What this means in English:

Looking on web pages that have “htm”, “html” or “php” in them, make sure the title of the web page is “index of”, and make sure the web page has the terms “parent directory”, “description”, and “size”. Also, make sure there are ebook files on the page (mobi and azw are for Kindle; PDFs; or ePub ebooks for the Nook, Sony or Kobo reader). The specific thing I am looking for has the words “stephen”, “king”, “under” and “dome”.

Most of the pirate dump sites are just a plain automatically generated web page with links to the files. These pages usually contain common terms like “index of”, “parent directory”, and “size”, which makes it easier to find the pirate sites.

Running the above focused search term, I get three results. The second one has a freely downloadable pirated copy of Stephen King’s novel, “Under the Dome”.

Personally, I use the filetype: operator almost daily. I can pick the exact file I want to find, usually a PDF or a Microsoft Word “.docx” file by typing filetype:pdf or filetype:docx in the search window.

Another operator I use all the time is the “-“, or NOT, operator. If I was searching for Rocky Wood, an author and HWA president who passed away last year, and Horror, I may end up with links to all kinds of unusual things, such as Rocky (the boxer), Norwegian Wood, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can tailor my search like this:

+”rocky wood” -boxer -“rocky horror picture show” +horror

In English:

Find instances where the words Rocky and Wood are together, but ignore any pages that have that goofy musical and any references to boxers. Also, please make sure the word “horror” appears on the page.

Note that it is easy to get so focused that you end up with no results. Running the above query, I get only five pages back. If I wanted more pages, I could try this query:

+”rocky wood” +”horror writers association”

I get seven times more relevant pages using the second query. If your results are too small, try making your query less restrictive, or try using other key words that are apropos to your searching desires.

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award®; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at WikipediaGuyAndTonya.com, and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Researching it Old School and a Little New

researchLouis L’Amour talked to every “old timer” he could find so that he could accurately portray how folks used to live in the old west. Nowadays most writers just turn to the Internet.

There are great, insightful websites that offer a virtual experience and allow us to get into the minds of our characters. For example, I was writing about a space station built on the planet Mercury. Using computer software I was able to visit Mercury and see what Earth looked like from her surface. In the right rotation, Earth and her moon looked like two bright stars. This detail added a nice level of authenticity to my story.

A couple years ago, I was researching my family history and came across a gentleman that I may or may not be related to (I still can’t figure that out) but his story is a great one. Commodore Joshua Barney fought in the American Revolution and was one of the first to serve in the continental navy.

I decided to write his amazing coming of age story (and am nearly complete with this endeavor). Though at the time, I hadn’t a clue about ships and sailing in the 18th century. So I turned to the Internet.

Wikipedia is alright for double checking a reference, not hard fast research. But I perused its site first to get some direction.

YouTube offered some interesting videos on ship replicas from that era and I was able to glean some insights into sailing such a vessel. But even the replicas have been modified with gas engines and motorized rudders, so how authentic could that be? Most of the cabins have also been modified to accommodate the 18th century luxuries we now consider necessities like running water and flushable toilets.

I gathered twenty or so books from Amazon on sailing in the 18th century and other period pieces. The first thing I noticed is that folks back then didn’t talk like we do today. Keeping to the historic dialect would probably be more authentic, but I would most likely alienate my middle-grade readers in the process. So I drifted from authenticity in that area and hoped to make up for it in my research of the sailor life: food, sleep, hygiene, and so on.

I went to an antique mall and purchased a few model ships from the 18th century so I could get a feel for their look, dimensions, and layouts. This helped me gain a better prospective than just looking at photographs.

IMG_6211After reading the Amazon books and playing with my model ships, my head was swimming in information, but I really had no way of knowing what was worthwhile and what was rubbish. So I booked a sailing expedition on an 18th century tall ship replica (now referred to as a yacht). I was able to feel the experience, see it, smell it, and taste it. This made it easier to convey sailing in my writing. But I still lacked some aspects of the ship life.

My next research adventure came by surprise. I was visiting Collette Black’s Desolation book signing in Half Priced Books and wondered if they had anything on sailing. I was able to browse dozens of helpful books and elect the ones that were most specific to my project, at a great price. That is something you really can’t do on Amazon. I even found a book that discussed trekking through the Alps during summer in the late 1800s (something that my protagonist did at the age of fifteen in the late 1700s).

David Farland said that I needed to visit the Alps to convey the experience like I had with sailing. I’d love to, and don’t doubt that my writing that particular chapter would be much more convincing and insightful if I did, but I’m going to try writing the chapter from my research first and we’ll see how it goes.

So sure, researching has gotten much easier with the Internet, but researching it old school is still necessary to add levels of depth and authenticity that virtual experience has yet to duplicate. My experience on Mercury would no doubt be a drop in the bucket to what I might actually experience if I travelled to the planet (and lived to tell about it). Bottom line, there isn’t any short cuts. Even a fantasy novel on a made-up world still requires huge amounts of research to capture the reader. Good research facilitates better writing.

jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.