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Writing fiction is an adventure. It’s also an education.

Before I began writing, I knew an active imagination would be needed along with a certain amount of creativity. What I hadn’t counted on was the amount of research I would have to do. This was probably shortsighted on my part, but I’m sure many readers assume that unless it’s historical fiction, an author works primarily from an existing knowledge base. We’ve all heard the advice: “Write what you know.”

Of course I do make use of much from my own life. Everything from playing the guitar to specific models of cars I know well has come in handy. It never ceases to amaze me, however, how much I don’t know that need to know in order to achieve an acceptable level of interest and authenticity. I’ll be merrily writing along, not sure where the storyline will take me, when I suddenly realize I’ve written myself into a situation about which I lack certain facts. Even when writing my only piece of short semi-speculative fiction this happened. I discovered I knew very little about the history of GLBTQ events and issues in Canada. Research was necessary.

Fortunately I am an eternal student, and I love researching and learning new things. It’s also fortunate for me that I live and work at a time when the Internet is at our fingertips. My writing would be much more labour intensive and much less diverse were I limited to what I know and what I could access in books or from hands-on experience. For example, here are some things I have used in my writing based on my internet research:

  • the structure of the Toronto Police Service
  • the growing season of dandelions
  • the history of Yorkville and other Toronto neighbourhoods
  • how the countryside of County Durham, U.K. looks
  • how certain drugs work
  • the history of the x-ray machine
  • symptoms and treatment of anxiety disorders
  • how to hot-wire a car

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

When I’m writing, I feel as if I have a dual existence. On one level I’m immersed in the lives of the characters and the emerging story. On another level I’m an adventurer, a desktop explorer traveling to places outside my 12 x 12 study, filling my mind and senses with things I will never experience within my lifetime.

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