For years I cut articles out of newspapers and magazines. I saved articles about cults, archeological ruins, magic, uncommon medical disorders, peculiar inventions, interesting philosophers, artists, poisonous plants, little known events in history, and more. I’m gradually pruning these old files. It’s difficult, because each one of these articles sparked something—if nothing else just the instinct that ‘there’s a story here’ and often much more.
But I no longer comb my old files. They just sit there taking up space in the big grey filing cabinet I inherited from the ad agency my dad & I had years ago. Now, like everyone else, I scamper around the Internet picking up the scent of an interesting tidbit and following link after link on a scavenger hunt for something that will light up a character’s eyes or change the direction of a story.
The Internet has made research easy! It’s also made the hunt an end in itself. I won’t even try to say how often I’ve started out looking for one fact—the year a particular event happened, the spelling of a name, the origin of a word—only to be distracted by a path that leads me to unplanned information destinations. Sometimes these detours pay off. Sometimes, they are just trips down the rabbit hole to a faraway wonderland.
As I rely on research for both my fiction and freelance writing, I’m searching all the time. Still, there are moments when I’m simply reading the newspaper (online or in paper form) and I turn the page to discover… something intriguing and wonderful! Sometimes I even print out the article.
Do you have any thoughts on research to share?