How did writers manage years ago – research-wise?
I’m a big believer in the powers of the search engine. Ask a question – any question – and someone’s asked it before you. Here’s a case in point. Yesterday, I wanted to describe someone going into a beauty salon. Those of you who do make use of salon services, particularly nail bars, will know there’s a certain very strong, chemical smell associated with them. What is it?
I began to type the words, “what does a nail salon” in. By the time I’d typed “sm”, auto fill had kicked in, and the suggestion “What does a nail salon smell like” appeared.
The first site I found was on answers yahoo – and funnily enough, was from someone writing about nail salons and wanting to know what that smell is. The answers weren’t terribly helpful. Someone had suggested dead cats, but one or two sites later and I had my answer.
That’s just one example. For the book I’ve just finished (first draft only), I needed to know if exploding cars happen often, what takes place at a memory clinic, how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, what happens during a medical termination, when Glasgow Caledonian became a university, if Botox is a brand name or a generic name for face-freezing injections, and the lyrics to a number of songs,* all of which was revelaed with some judicious searching.
Then there’s the joy of the online thesaurus. You discover you’ve just used the same word three times in the last two paragraph and off you head to the thesaurus to find an alternative.
I have no idea how writers managed before the internet. Did they save up all their queries and then go to the library? Did they have to phone people up? Would the novelist writing about a nail salon 25 years ago have phoned up a salon and asked the question? As a result of the difficulties of research, did writers just write about things they knew a lot about?
Thanks heavens for the internet, hmm?
*Those lyrics might need to come out. I’m trying to work out if I would need to pay a fee for them, if I misquote them slightly, or have characters speak the lyrics to each other. There’s more information about using lyrics in your writing here.