Monday, August 31, 2009

Woodchucks and Siege Engines

Here's my dilemma.

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?

As with any question, the left brain immediately seeks the logical answer, in this case going for the mathmatics.

But wait, there's more.

There's that dastardly IF thrown in so nonchalantly.

So does a woodchuck chuck wood or not?

And what is chucking wood, anyway?

So here I go off to my favorite search engine.

And how did anyone come up with the moniker of search engine? Did it have anything to do with siege engines?

Research.

It leads down the most interesting avenues and to a few cul-de-sacs and dead-ends.

My little brain is filled with odds and ends. Does everything end up in a story? Of course not. Barely a smidgen (technical term) lands there. Some side trips - like to the siege engine site - never do. But it all enriches your base of knowledge and primes the pump.

The other day I had to wake myself up twice while slogging through a 15-page Coast Guard human resources publication about officer promotions. After I read it, I talked to a real live Coastie to find out what sort of duty stations would have been available at that time.

Time spent = most of a morning.

The reason? To figure out where my protagonist had been in her career at a certain point in her life.

How much will be in the manuscript? Maybe a sentence or two scattered throughout.

Here's the thing.

Don't scrimp or begrudge your research time. It all pays off in the end, one way or another.

On the flip side, set limits for yourself. Like the siege engine. Recognize you're off on a tangent and allow yourself one every once in a while. Just don't let the tangents catapult you too far away from your main focus.

Unless you land in a field of goodies, of course. Then pick them all.

9 comments:

Laura Eno said...

Ha! I can wind off into searches for days if I'm not careful - especially Scottish Highland items. One thing leads to another!

Laura Eno said...

P.S. You have an award waiting for you over at my blog. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

Wow, Laura. Thanks for the award. Tune in tomorrow, folks!

Helen Ginger said...

And therein lies the rub. (And what is a rub anyway?) It seems inevitable that the more research I do, the more interesting things I find. So I keep reading and linking and reading. And there goes the day. And my rub.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

Ah, "rub" is something else to research, Helen!

Maybe set a timer each time you click over to the internet. Just make sure your timer doesn't have a remind-me-later option.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

So in your research did you find out if a woodchuck chucks wood or not? :)

I like doing research but find I do go off on tangents that have nothing to do with what I'm trying to learn. I guess I need to learn how to focus.

Carol Kilgore said...

For Jane & Other Inquiring Minds:
I found out that a woodchuck is the same thing as a groundhog. And basically they don't chuck wood. Chucking wood, by the way, means tossing it aside. But those scientists out there figured out that if they chucked wood instead of digging a burrow, they'd chuck about 700 pounds.

My, my.

Terry Odell said...

Reminds me of when my son was in school and had his spelling homework. He hated dictionary day, when he had to look up all his spelling words. I asked him why, since it was a straightforward assignment. He said, "Because there's always so much other interesting stuff that it takes me too long to finish."

But how true - we probably put about 5% of what we learn on the page. However, by understanding, our writing is richer and more believable.

Carol Kilgore said...

Oh, Terry, I was like your son. I'd read everything on the page.