Research for Writing YA and Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy

This the ninth in a series of guest posts by authors who, like me, have found themselves falling down into a Research Rabbit Hole, often with hilarious results. Because this is the true danger of research…it sucks you in!

GUEST AUTHOR: KATHRYN SULLIVAN

My day job was university librarian so whenever I needed to research a topic, I always *really research* a topic. I might start out with Google or Wikipedia to find some useful terms, but if something exists in this world, I want to know as much as I can about it before I start modifying it for a science fiction or a fantasy story. So that means books, journals and newspapers as well as websites, forums and blogs.

For my last book, Talking to Trees, a YA Fantasy, I wanted to briefly mention some tree diseases. I started with Dutch Elm disease, because there were photographs in historic newspapers of my current town of the main street lined by huge elms that are there no longer. The blight that killed off most of the chestnut trees in North America (four billion) was next, followed by diseases affecting oak trees. I used to be Periodicals Librarian at my university, so I know how to search the academic databases and the paper indexes for the older journals.  I had scientific articles filling my research folder as well as pages of newspaper articles. The ‘brief mention’ ended up being an important plot point, but very little of the pages of research made it into the book.  It didn’t have to.

For my current work in progress I needed information on comets and meteors. The main character may be 10 years old, but she’s more focused on astronomy than I was at her age (she has a telescope and a backyard in which to use it). Plus there has been more discoveries since I was ten. I already get The Planetary Report, and the university library had paper and online subscriptions to Science and other journals. The curriculum collection had science textbooks for the elementary and high school grades, so I could check what information was currently taught in schools.  Though since the story is set in the far future, there will be changes.

Research was the perfect excuse to watch the show Meteorite Men (2009-2012) (yes, the work in progress has been in progress for a while).

The university offered an astronomy class for retirees, and the instructor was a geologist who specialized in impact craters. I quickly signed up, and enjoyed myself. She had meteorites that we could handle, and examples of “meteor wrongs”.

A side rabbit hole I fell into was checking newspaper articles on science fair projects and robotics competitions. My justification was to confirm that ten-year-olds are indeed working on advanced science projects. And they are.

All the research I’ve done for this project is quite a contrast to an short story that I wrote while baby sitting at age 16, which was inspired by a newspaper article about predicted meteor showers that month.

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kathysullivan1-06Kathryn Sullivan has been writing science fiction and fantasy since she was 14 years old. Having read her father’s collection of sf and fantasy, she started writing her own. The world set up in The Crystal Throne has been developing since then. Some of the short stories escaped into fan zines, print zines and ezines, but those were collected into Agents & Adepts.

Follow her: Website / Facebook 

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