content by

Vivian Shaw

How Much Research Should You Do For Your Book?

Much has been written about the enormous importance of looking things up before you write about them so as to avoid ranking too high on the Dan Brown Scale of Did Not Do The Research—but there’s another side to this particular coin. As someone who spends a hell of a lot of time looking stuff up on the internet, I can affirm that it is, in fact, possible to do more research than you can actually use.

There are any number of methodologies for conducting research, but the one I generally end up following to start with, at least, is the Wiki rabbit hole. It’s ill-advised to rely on Wikipedia for all of your information, of course, but it’s a jumping-off point from which you can track down primary sources; it tells you what you need to look up next. It can also lead to some fairly bizarre search strings, and you can come out miles away from where you started, having lost hours, but it’s fun most of the time…except for when it’s frustrating. It is also possible to go too deep, to get hung up on some particular tiny detail that almost certainly isn’t important enough to warrant this level of focus, and find yourself bogged down and going nowhere. There’s a point where you have to pause and back away: you don’t need to get a degree in the subject, you just need to not get specific things hilariously wrong.

Such as physical setting. The original draft of what would become my novel Strange Practice was written before Google Street View existed, and much-younger me hadn’t bothered to look up maps of London in the middle of NaNoWriMo rush, so there were several instances of completely erroneous geography worth at least 7 Dan Browns. When I rewrote it a decade later, I was able to accurately describe the setting and the routes characters would have taken through the city, including the sewers—although I then had to take a lot of those details out again because they did not need to be on the page.

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6 Ways That Fanfiction Makes Your Writing Stronger

I’ve been a fanfiction author since my early teens—a few years after I began writing original long-form SFF—and I’ve learned more about the art and craft of writing from fanfic than I have in any classroom. It’s allowed me to develop and hone my skills while having fun, rather than completing assignments, and exposed me to a wonderful variety and range of other people’s work over the years.

Crucially, fanfiction is a discipline of its own, and it can teach you some specific things that will be of use to you in whatever kind of writing you choose to pursue.

[Let’s start with the big picture…]

The Works of Robin McKinley and Why Fantasy Should Seem Real

As a young child devouring every fantasy book I could get my hands on, I was incredibly lucky to have not only a mentor in my school librarian but also an unlimited transatlantic supply of books from my grandmother’s bookshop back home in the UK. One of the books Grandma sent me was Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood; that and the duology of The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown cemented my profound love of McKinley’s characterization and accessibility.

I’d read lots of high fantasy before encountering McKinley, and the enormous difference between her heroes and, say, Tolkien’s struck me as both new and welcoming. McKinley’s protagonists are people, not archetypes—fallible, unsure of themselves, practical, vulnerable. As a young reader I could fit myself into Aerin or Harry or Robin or Marian (or Cecily) in a way I’d never been able to fit into Tolkien’s people.

[You couldn’t imagine Eowyn having problems with her horse…]

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