Saturday, March 3, 2012

Research can be fun!

As all y'all probably know, I write a fair amount of historical fantasy. This means research. Lots and lots of research. It can be a hassle at times (for instance, writing a banquet scene set in 1631 Ireland takes forever, because you have to look up utensils, table arrangements, attire, common foods, dining traditions, etc), but in the end it's necessary in order to give your book the proper atmosphere. My current WIP is set in modern-day Cairo. The main character is American (which makes it a lot easier) and research takes less time, since there's considerably more information out there about modern Cairo than 17th century Ireland.

To make a long story short, I really wanted to have a sense of the Arabic alphabet, since the story takes place in Cairo's Islamic district. My main characters speak English for most of the book, but I had them wearing Arabic name tags and I found myself wondering what their names looked like. So I started researching. When I wrote LIKE CLOCKWORK, which is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of India, I resolved to take Hindi lessons in college partly so I would be able to write in the sanskrit alphabet. Turns out, learning alphabets is a lot of fun. It makes me feel all cultured and sophisticated (hahahahahaha) and it's a great way to get a better sense of a culture. There's something about the aesthetics, the way writing appears on a page, that really helps me immerse myself (as much as possible) in the culture I'm exploring.

Research can be fun. Sure, my study of Arabic letters probably won't make a huge impact on my WIP, but now I can make references to Arabic diacritics and sanskrit matras and such. Little details can make a big difference, and if you can find a way to have fun with your research then that funness (totally not a word, but whatever) will show. Readers will be fascinated because you are fascinated.

So just for fun, I wrote out all my critique partners' names in both sanskrit and Arabic. I think Celesta's is prettiest (in Arabic, at least), but they all look cool, and I had a blast figuring out the letters!

Yayyyyy for semi-useless posts. Do you guys enjoy research? Have any tips for making it fun?


  1. Sometimes I get so caught up in research, I forget that it's to a purpose!

    Also, I speak some Arabic so if you ever need help for whatever reason, lemme know :)

  2. I took Arabic for a semester in college (before I couldn't fit it into my schedule anymore). Around finals, I fell asleep in my statistics class and woke up with notes written in Arabic. They made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Which doesn't really have anything to do with research. But I think it's a gorgeous language and I really wish I knew more of it.

  3. Hi Kate. I'm stopping by from the Platform campaign trail. :)
    I enjoy research. I don't need to do nearly as much as you. I write YA and adult mysteries, all set in modern times.
    The names are pretty.
    Good luck with your wip.

  4. I love the way these look (even though they don't make a lick of sense to me XD). They kind of make our alphabet look kind of ugly...

  5. Arabic is a beautiful language:) I once researched languages when I decided to make one up for a country in my WIP. I now have an alphabet, grammar rules, and vocabulary lists that I will probably never use because man, it is difficult to make up a language. Yep, I gave up -- decided it wasn't important enough or worth the effort. But I learned a lot first.

    I also end up researching a lot on weapons, castles, heraldry, dungeons, etc. It helps that I used to live in Europe and have seen a lot of old castles, dungeons, torture chambers, and weapons first-hand. Heh. I can certainly capture the atmosphere, at least, even if I'm permanently traumatized by the torture museum...

  6. Oh, I love it! Save it for me, I'll be in Utah in a few weeks!

    I watched a Youtube video on how to skin a rabbit. It wasn't necessarily fun, but it wasn't boring!

  7. Wow! In Sanskrit, my name looks like my swingset--complete with the fireman pole! I love it! Can I have mine? My daughter is fascinated with all things Egypt and is determined to learn Arabic...right after she masters Chinese.
    I can't remember how many youtube videos I watched on spinning wool. And then I ended up cutting all the spinning scenes out of my novel. But even though the scenes are gone, the understanding is still there in the background and it colors the story.

  8. Interesting that you tied Arabic letters to your topic on research. I'm in the process of creation fictional languages inspired by actual languages from that part of the world. Cool stuff, Kate! :)

  9. Thanks for sharing this, Kate! I'm inspired by how deep you dig in your research. I love how research broadens our understanding of the world around us. I recently completed five online Quechuan language lessons and learned about the Peruvian techniques of creating wool dyes for one WIP. I've also been watching documentaries about extreme ice caving for another.