East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Doing research on the fly


No, I don’t mean the study of entomology.

I said I’d keep you posted, so here I am.
I love what I am writing – it’s an espionage thriller, so I’m not completely out of my depths.

I’m currently taking a pause after two hours and some.
I have 2000 words – prologue, first chapter introducing two of the three main characters, and a bit of the second chapter.
Much of the “bit of the second chapter” will have to go – because I’ve just seen a way to write it more dynamically.
But it’s all right, and I am about to award myself a small ice cream.


I could have written more, but I had to do research on the fly.
And so I thought I’d do a short post on the way I handled it.
Maybe someone’s interested.

First thing – I usually do some research before I start writing, but this is an urgent thing, the story is outlined, I can start typing and look for info as I go.
And thank goodness for the Internet.

So, I start writing.
As I go on, I stumble on bits that might benefit from a little detail. As I said in the past, I do research for the fun of it, yes, but also because dropping some real, verified detail in a made-up story helps giving the story a certain solidity, some sort of grounding.
Therefore, while the 2000 words take shape on the page…

. I check the website for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International.
. Then I go to Google Earth to spot the location of the prologue. This takes about a quarter of an hour, in part because I am on a slow connection, in part because I have a good idea of what I am looking for, but it takes time finding it. From Google Earth I take down the geographical coordinates.
. I do a bit of research on Wikipedia about the area, the different nations (it’s a border area), the local politics and languages. Just to make sure. I also find a quite handy table of average temperatures and weather per month of the year. Good.
. I check the photos of the local vegetation.
. I use Google Translate to translate a few phrases in French and in a local dialect – isn’t it wonderful that Google Translate also features a lot of less-well-known local languages? Swell!
. I tap the brains of my friend Angelo (that’s living 500 kms away) on a matter of assault rifles.
. I move to Paris, and use the website of Le Figarò to find a place where my bon-vivant protagonist can have a hearth breakfast in the dehors. I find the place – address, photos, suggested dishes.
. through a wine-snob website I find the best wine to go with the breakfast
. I check the World Health Organization‘s website for procedures and protocols in case of Ebola outbreak.
. I find a first class flight from Paris-Charles de Gaulle to the area of the action I spotted on Google Earth before.
. I get a culture in proteomics through a Wiki article and a short Youtube video.

2000 words.
And now an ice cream, and a short walk.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Doing research on the fly

  1. I always find your posts on writing incredibly useful. Full of good info and inspirational bits. Keep it up!


  2. Distance don’t matter. If you need me, I’ll be there.


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