The Things You Learn

Listening to: The Weakerthans, “Reconstruction Site”

It’s truly amazing some of the things you learn when doing research.

Whenever I find myself searching for information or answers that will help me write a particular scene realistically (most memorable instances thus far: venomous snakes in Pennsylvania, how to knock someone unconscious without violence,* and how to break into a car)**, I flash back to my 8th grade pre-Algebra class.

The teacher, a small but terrifying man, spent the first ten minutes of our first class asking each student, one by one, what they wanted to be when they grew up. He then shot a dozen holes into each kid’s dream occupation.

Here’s how the conversation went when he got to me:

Mr. Scary: So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Kristin: A writer.
Mr. Scary: What do you want to write?
Kristin: Um…books. Novels.
Mr. Scary: Do you know how a gun works?
Kristin: No.
Mr. Scary: Have you ever fired a gun?
Kristin (voice so low hardly anyone can hear it): No.
Mr. Scary: Do you know any of the brands of guns?
Kristin (whispering): No.
Mr. Scary (shaking his head at my obvious stupidity): Well, you’ll never be a very good writer if you don’t know this stuff. Novelists have to know how guns work, or else they’ll look like idiots. You don’t want to look like an idiot, do you?
Kristin: No.

What this had to do with pre-Algebra, I’ll never know. I suspect its true purpose was to instill a sense of terror/respect in his students.***

Anyhow, I do my research, not just because I’m afraid of looking like an idiot (although that’s wonderful motivation), but also because I want my writing to be as realistic as possible. I have yet to encounter a need to know about guns, though. Someone needed to tell Mr. Scary that not every single genre of novel requires firearm knowledge and experience.

So today, I found myself looking all over the interwebs for information on breaking into cars. A good friend with some shady dealings in her past gave me some information, but I needed to fill in the gaps. I found a site that sold the tools I was researching, and examined them with interest.

Then, in the “May We Also Suggest” sidebar, I discover what else this site sells (I’m not linking to the site, for reasons that should be obvious). The Grand Theft Auto Combo…and we’re not talking about the video game. The street fighter combo…I live in such an innocent world that I didn’t even know brass knuckles were still used or even available. There’s even an instructional DVD for breaking into cars, titled in very plain language that leaves no doubt as to what it teaches. And leg cuffs–available in two sizes!–for restraining that especially resistant captive. And more items I’d prefer not to think about.

Sometimes research is really fun–like the afternoon I spent watching YouTube videos of hailstorms and tornadoes. But some days, you learn things you’d be better off without.

Today’s one of those days.

*Most sources I’ve found say that chloroform on a rag, as shown in many, many films, must be used in too large a dose for practicality. Also, the size of the dose could kill the victim.

**It’s a good thing I’m an upstanding citizen who rarely does anything worse than drive five mph over the speed limit, because some of my search history makes me look like either a sick freak or a petty criminal. Or both.

***In addition to interrogating his students on the first day, Mr. Scary liked to make them feel stupid every single day. We were frequently required to read aloud from our textbooks, which for some reason had a great deal of ellipses in them, either in the text or in the sample problems. Mr. Scary would insist that we read these as “Dot, dot, dot.” If you didn’t, he gave you a right screaming fit. “Dot, dot, dot”…to this day, I can’t see or type an ellipses without thinking of him.

2 thoughts on “The Things You Learn

  1. Yours is the only writing blog I’m looking at these days. I seriously need to catch up.

    Funny about the research. I’ve researched how to make a sword, how to load a cap-and-ball revolver, how to make paint from raw materials, elementary fencing moves, and life and times in Ancient Rome.

    Nothing so exciting as breaking into a car, however. I hope you don’t plan on making this your new occupation! 🙂

  2. Well, I feel flattered to be your only current blog, lol! I know how it is to get really behind, though.

    I knew as I read your book that there must be a lot of research behind it. That sword-making stuff, especially, was very informative.

    As for my occupation, ha! We’ll see how the writing goes, but I try never to rule out any possibilities. 😉

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