Savvy Saturday – Research Fun

“Why are you researching how long it takes someone to die from gangrene?”

“Why are you at a cultural event for Native Americans?”

“What brings you to this recreation of a Civil War campsite? Are you interested in history?”

 

The correct answer to all of these questions, of course, is a bright-eyed smile and the reply, “I’m a novelist, and I’m doing research! Can you tell me more about [topic]?”

 

Today’s Savvy Saturday post is a compilation of some of the fun random things I’ve learned and seen recently as part of my research. Not all of these have to do with the same work-in-progress – and some don’t have anything at all to do with things I’m currently writing – but I am certain that any bit of trivia or interesting experience I can acquire now will add to the quality of my writing at some point in the future. So without further ado, here are some things I’ve researched recently:

 

1. How to rappel down a cliff face with nothing but a length of rope. Useful for escaping from towers and such.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBGOd8psA5I

2. Civil War campsites. Sharpshooters wore green uniforms, while others wore blue. However, sharpshooters didn’t necessarily have rifles that were any more accurate than their fellow soldiers; they might just have guns that could just shoot more times a minute. At top speeds, normal guns could be fired 3 to 5 times a minute. However, in the heat of battle, soldiers often forgot to fire their guns and just went through the loading and aiming routine over and over again, until four or five balls and powder for them would be rammed down the barrel of the gun. What happens then? Two words: not good.

 

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On the left, a sharpshooter in uniform
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A Union soldier (reenactor) demonstrating how to load a rifle.

3. Scottish accents are beautiful, but can be almost incomprensible at times. If you’re trying to write a character with this accent, you might use the words “nae” instead of “no” and “wee” instead of “little.” But to really get the sound and pattern in your head, you could try listening to someone from Scotland give a lecture:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cENbkHS3mnY

Or, listen to a voice coach explaining the distinctive features of a Scottish accent.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mALkCGVA2BU

 

4. How to knap arrowheads. It turns out that there are two methods that are used in shaping flint: percussion chipping, and pressure chipping (flaking). You can see a website with diagrams here: http://www.wildernesscollege.com/making-arrowheads.html, watch an example of percussion chipping here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KH_cToPdiA, then an example of pressure chipping here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnaAcP53iyk.

It turns out that some arrowheads were made just through percussion chipping (you can see an example of a percussion chipped edge here):

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Percussion edges (on the right)

While others are made through pressure chipping (note the more jagged edges):

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Pressure edges (on top)

This is actually two edges of the same piece of flint – it was given to me by this knapper as an example of both types of techniques, once he found out that I was a novelist and doing research.

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What can I say? Being a novelist is a great job.

 

Have you ever researched anything strange for a book? Post your favorite trivia or experiences in the comments!

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