A man checks his roommate’s internet browsing history and finds searches for slow-acting, untraceable poisons and how long it takes to suffocate someone with a pillow. He knows his snoring’s gotten worse, but would she kill him for a good night’s sleep?
A woman asks her husband to duct-tape her wrists together and put her into the trunk of their car. Is she getting kinky on him, or maybe just losing her mind?
A teenager finds an article on common arson techniques and how to determine the cause of a fire. His mother has made notes on it and circled the key points. Is she planning on burning down the grow op next door?
In all these scenarios, the answer is no. It’s just a writer doing research. The most mild-mannered writer may have read about things, or even done things that would make you think twice about hanging out with them. But relax, it’s all in the name of good storytelling.
As writers, everything we see, read, do, hear (and yes, overhear), becomes possible fodder for that book we’re writing. Nothing is sacred. Though for the sake of our relationships, names have hopefully been changed to protect the innocent, or the guilty, as the case may be. Sometimes we even do our research by accident. Something happens to us and we use it, after the fact, to put some believable action or emotion into our writing.
Often the things we use in our writing are painful incidents, things most people wouldn’t dwell on. But not writers. No, we take these unpleasant experiences and hold them up to the light, study them, examine them from different points of view. And then we use them. I like to think of it as not wasting all that pain, inconvenience, and angst.
This past summer I sprained my ankle. Well, not just sprained it. I tore a bone chip off, smashed my face into a concrete wall, put two teeth through my upper lip, scraped my ankle, and got cellulitis which, if not treated promptly, can apparently be lethal. I spent 3 weeks commuting to the hospital twice a day in a wheelchair for IV antibiotics before I worked up to crutches, a cane, and finally being able to limp into my physiotherapist’s office. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, but then it occurred to me. This was perfect research for the badly wounded protagonist of the novel I was revising! Suddenly, it was all worth it. Well, maybe not worth it, but at least now my injury has a silver lining.
So, if I start making notes while you talk about your messy divorce, don’t worry, I’m on your side. It’s just that I’ve got this new character, see….