what are your primary forms of research? To be specific, do you look at scientific journals, speak with people who specialize in the field, watch videos, etc? And if you go for that personal meeting with a person, how do you approach them (through email? Setup face to face meetings)? Are people in a university setting usually open to these encounters? Thank you so much for your time!
Yes. All of that.
Do you remember the opera house in Omaha that’s featured in Magic Breaks? We actually called there to find out what color ceiling it had, because it looked ivory in some shots and yellow in others. I found an old post about it and unlocked it for you.
In my experience, people are very receptive to talking about something they love enough to choose it as their career. Most of the time email is the preferred mode of communication because they can respond to it at their leisure and you’re not interrupting anything on their end with an email like you can sometimes interrupt with a phone call.
More recently, we consulted Professor Bronwyn H. Bleakley, whom we thanked here. That conversation greatly enhanced our understanding of people’s motivations.
But the primary sources of research are always books and internet. If you want a solid foundation to understand something, try to find a children’s book about it. They are usually clearly written, have illustrations, and assume zero familiarity with the subject. Google is very useful, specifically google maps.
Please don’t feel compelled to get every possible detail right. You will drive yourself batty.
For example, we are writing a scene involving Houston’s Institute of Forensic Sciences. We google-drove around it. We looked at the pictures. But we don’t know its exact layout. We are not sure that the autopsy suite we are describing is on the floor we are describing. We can spend several hours verifying this or we can move on with writing the story. In the grand scheme of things, the exact floor isn’t important. So pick your battles. Research isn’t writing. Only writing is writing.
How do y’all work out the fight sequences? Watch videos or movies, sword fight in the living room or just wrangle it out in your mind? I’m sorry if this has been asked before. I’ve only lately realized you address process.
See the answer above. Lots and lots of martial art video viewing. And yes, if possible, you should try to actually work through the martial arts moves you are describing.
For example, I read a book where the character is knocked flat on his back by a werewolf, who is now on top of him. The character bends his legs and dramatically kicks the werewolf off. This isn’t going to work. When someone of significant weight and size is on top of you, you can’t bend your knees to work your feet under them. Try it. The only way this would work would be if the werewolf deliberately lifted his hind end to allow for the legs to be bent. Neither dogs nor humans fight that way. We always instinctively try to pin our opponent with our weight.
So make sure it makes sense. Also, keep in mind that martial arts in competition are different than actual fighting. In a real fight, when you got your opponent on the ground, you’re not going to use a fancy submission hold. You’re going to smash his head against the pavement until he stops struggling.
Lynn Fitzgerald says
Thanks for sharing your wealth of experience!
As always, excellent stuff. I used to do Tae Kwon Do and then I was certified in stage combat (rapier and dagger as well as broadsword and empty hand). I often find myself tilting my head to the side and scrunching up my nose when I read fight scenes (not yours, though!!!).
And don’t get me started on the physical impossibility of most sex scenes in romance novels. Good golly days non-contortionists are just not that flexible! O_o
They are if they have an extra arm, leg or something! LOL!
Lol! *snickers* tentacles…
Galexy Quest love scene!
When I did karate, years ago,, Saturday classes were for practical stuff. We loved that. How to escape from holds, or if someone grabs you or is on top of you and stuff like that.
Wenonah Lyon says
My daughter took a self defence class years ago and was told the first, best, action was to run away if possible.
Research sounds like it could be fun. “Hey let’s have our characters go to Disneyland” Then travel there for research ?.
Judy B says
That last line made my day,,, so true, competition fighting is nothing even close to fighting for your life.
+1 So right.
For hand-to-hand combat or fight scenes a wonderful resource is the blog called howtofightwrite, by two lifelong martial artists who will answer questions. Lots of direct description, but also great stuff on violence, its effects on people, competition, why what’s in movies just won’t work, etc.
Chantay James says
trailing wife says
Interesting site, that http://howtofightwrite.com. I spent an unexpected bit of time wandering through the posts — thank you, Nicole!
I was always so impressed with your wealth of knowledge on guns, tanks, swords- I love reading it. It always reminds me of my dad, who was in the armed forces.
Mikhail Vapnik says
What about the various historical and mythological research that must have gone into the Kate books? As a fellow displaced Russian, I love the various takes on Slavic myths. (For the love of all that is holy, give that whole volhv family a book.) What were the sources for that? The Google is too vast at times to be help on general subjects.
Mikhail Vapnik says
Oh geez, I thought the pic would go next to the name. Now it’s all creepy. lol
Patricia Schlorke says
Halloween came early? 😀
A whole book with Roman and his extended family? I’m in on that!
^ This. This right here. Yes.
hahaha… love your post. Maybe for the love of all that is both holy AND unholy… 😉
Count me in too.
Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev. 🙂 Available in English. And lots and lots and lots of Slavic pagan sites. Here is a good one: http://radogost.ru/chernobog.html
Mikhail Vapnik says
Very goot. I veel read dees book. Spasibo.
Mikhail Vapnik says
Sorry, picturing Roman’s accent as that of my uncle Vlad.
As an academic in a university setting I would love to share my knowledge with authors. I think it would be interesting and we do love talking about our fields.
But nothing is more annoying than when people try to sound fancy and get it wrong. For instance, I read a fantasy novel where they crawl through a tunnel in the earth to the other side. Ok, I’m a geologist, but I have entered the world of fantasy. But when the author repeatedly says the walls of the tunnel are basalt (which is a near surface/surface rock type) I am rather annoyed. If you want to put detail in, get it right or else use generic (in this case rock) which works just as well.
I’ll second A’s statement.
(Literature and Medieval History academic)
Third. Not an academic, but when someone gets really basic stuff in my field wrong, it’s pretty annoying. Surely there is someone around to ask.
Patricia Schlorke says
I hear you on that. I am not in academics (at the moment but people ask me all the time if I would teach). It’s frustrating for me to hear or read when someone talks statistics and think they’re right but what they say is nonsense.
That is why I offered Ilona and Gordon my help if they ever want to use statistics in a far, far, future book. (By the way, they both said “Luther!” at the same time.)
Peggy B says
I agree – American Higher Education and human deveopment (adolscents) specialist here. What a way to take me out of the act of suspending my disbelief that a good novel does ( i. e ., Ilona Andrews). Oh, and who knew that about basalt rocks? Geologists Do!
Thank you for these insightful posts! Greatly appreciate the info.
If you have time, can you answer another question? How do you write sex scenes without making them sound sleezy or ridiculous?
I love how I can read their books and never have to worry about their characters stopping in the middle of a fight scene or fleeing from overwhelming forces to boink in a broom closet. Their scenes are always good, meaningful and not gratuitous.
Where is thr sneak peak? Where did it go? That’ll teach me to for choosing work over reading a post.
Am I the only one imagining them pulling out the Nerf swords when there’s nothing good on TV?
Patricia Schlorke says
Lol! Or they could be testing out the fart guns… 😀
Graham Smith says
I really like Lindybeige who you introduced in one of your blogs a while back.
Here is a link to his pushing sword and how it is not realistic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knHEVeyVmDc
He has lots of YouTube videos on multiple fighting scenarios.
Dear Ilona and Gordon,
I cannot tell you have grateful I am that you used Prof. Bleakely’s work to explain what my ‘family’ of voracious speculative fiction (sci fi/fantasy/uf/etc) calls “spaceships and swords” how could you have both. While some of the family is still skeptical, it makes total sense to me. I have observed in my lifetime (5th decade) that while the rate of change in technology has increased logarthmically, the rate of change in social/psychological paradigms is SIGNIFICANTLY lagging, which to me, is at least some of the cause of the social problems that we now face.
So cheers on doing research to get the writing right.
I tried to look up how many members were in the US house of representatives a long while ago (pre-google and wiki I think) and had a stunningly difficult time just getting the number. It kept giving me lists of names. I then tried something like ‘House of Representatives for kids’. Bam! The first site I tried had exactly what I needed.
AM Scott says
Try being in USAF space operation for twenty years and reading so-called science fiction. I almost always stick to space opera, because then I don’t stress over the physics.
I worked out a fight scene for one of my books using my giant Vermont teddy bear once–worked great.
AM Scott says
Oh, and thanks for all these posts and the wonderfulness of Innkeeper!
As someone who has interned at the HIFS, I would not be bothered by a different layout. I would be much more upset if the science was wrong. Thanks for sharing more about how you prioritize your research time. I’m not a writer, but I’ve enjoyed reading your process posts.
Bill G says
Love the story. I recall that when I was in school, everything in the encyclopedia was more interesting than the subject I was supposed to be trying to find.
And even today, I can be seduced by the net into looking up anything that piques my interest.
Loved the snippet, too. Thank you!
I’m enjoying these Writing Q&A’s. I find them as engaging and entertaining as any of your best selling fiction.
Your expertise and your generosity are greatly appreciated!
By the way, how is your father? Last we heard he was washing the windows in the cold rain…
Thank you so much for all the helpful information. I think the amount of effort you put into your research is what gives your stories a level of depth that is hard to find in others. I truly appreciate you taking time out of your day for answering this question.
Now be honest. How many table lamps have you guys taken out while practicing fight scenes?
Too funny Tink!
Now I’m picturing this:
a YouTube video in the background paused on the big screen tv, a lamp flickering on it’s side from the floor, pillows strewn, and papers float through the air as Ilona and Gordon are locked in what appears -to the untrained eye- to be a slow motion drunken game of
…Ilona wielding the remote to stop/start the martial arts video, Gordon attempting to strike with a small dog clamped to the cuff of his khakis, the rest of the pack joining in real-time (dogs don’t do slow-mo) playfully barking, lunging and wagging while the cats on the mantle are gasp-laughing so hard thay can barely paw the air…
Yep, I imagine that most best selling books come from scenarios like this 😉
Ilona andrews says
No. We sit at our desks. No papers, no pillows, no romanticing writing. 🙂 It’s hard work and it’s boring to watch.
I know you work long and hard at your desks, that you have deadlines to meet, a family to support, bills to pay, books to write, books to revise, books to release, contracts to negotiate, art to purchase, talent to audition, a hoard to feed weekly chapters, demanding tour schedules, a blog to maintain, Dromeo to deal with … and more
I hope my above bit of fan-fiction brought a smile to your day?
because I truly appreciate you!
It did. 🙂 Thank you! It cheered me up.
Too bad my Dad wasn’t still alive. He was a pathologist and had contacts worldwide. He might have been able to get the Houston Forensics info for you.
I once rented my loft out to a guy who was security director – ie head bouncer – at a casino in Chinatown (London). His take on his (rare) fights was this: “the trouble is all these guys have martial arts training, but I find that if you bang their head against the wall they slow down a bit.”
He also wore a $5,000 dinner jacket. He said: “when people see a bloke my size and build in a dj, they think ‘bouncer’, then they look at this do and think ‘and a good one’. Saves all that threatening stuff.”
Thanks for these practical posts. Helpful (if I ever actually write that book I’ve been imagining since my school days) and interesting.
Re. research, Gail Carriger just recently re-shared a blog post of her own on the same general topic:
I get that: there’s always somebody who knows more on a given topic than you can reasonably hope to research. There have been a fair number of times, though, when I’ve been left asking basic things like, “Shouldn’t these professional investigators be wearing gloves before handling evidence?” And I agree with “A”: “If you want to put detail in, get it right or else use generic.”
Oh, my link vanished! Are they not allowed, or did I use the wrong format?
In the hopes that the comments system just got confused by the angle brackets, I’ll try one more time:
And what about foreign languages?
Everytime, I come across some bad French or even just the wrong expressions for the context in a book, my love of that author seriously diminishes.
Please get an actual native speaker to check it for you or have your protagonist speak English and let the reader know they have a strong accent. That’ll do.
Mary Cruickshank-Peed says
My oldest son has been involved in 3 different martial arts He has a brown belt in a Chinese Karate, a yellow belt in a Japanese Karate and now teaches Aikido (also Japanese). He’s been involved since he was 3 (a recommendation from a pediatrician for a health issue).
When he was in 8th grade, I got a call from the school discipline officer. He said “Mike was in an altercation in gym. He’s not in trouble, there were several witnesses, but he’s upset and you might want to come and get him.”
I went to the school and talked to the discipline officer. He said “Mike was in gym and being harassed by another boy. The boy got Mike cornered by the drinking fountain after Mike had repeatedly told him to leave him alone, and Mike kicked him and got away and came and told me about it. The boy is going to be suspended for 3 days and have in school probation for a month.”
I turn to Mike and say “Roundhouse or back kick?”
Mike says “Back kick.”
I say “Good. Then he’s only got a sore stomach instead of broken ribs.”
The officer paled and said “And we appreciate the restraint, Mike.”
Mike’s Sensei’s have always endorsed what they call the Tennis Shoe Defense. “Take ’em down hard enough to run away.”
Both my boys say you’ve done martial arts “correctly”. 😀
Here’s my thing. If you’re writing about something that I don’t know anything about, or that is fantasy and clearly fantasy, I’m fine with mistakes. But if you’re writing about Christmas in colonial America, you should know that, unless your people are German, Christmas Trees weren’t a thing… and a few minutes research will tell you that Christmas trees didn’t come into vogue in the English speaking world until Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and he brought the tradition from Germany. If you’re writing about engineering, you can have a magic macguffin to power your space craft, but if gravity stops working, you’d better have a good reason. (And if gravity doesn’t stop working when it should, you should also have a good reason… don’t get me started on watching Star Trek with physicists in a crabby mood.)
Kathryn Walton says
Fantastic birthday present – thank you ?