As much as I love my writing buddies, the bulk of my real-world friends have nothing to do with the writing or publishing industries at all. The overwhelming majority of them are, believe it or not, in the sciences somewhere, with musicians coming in a very close second and other creative professions (theater performance, stage and set design, visual arts, etc.) after that, not including any overlaps.
One thing that I’ve noticed scientists and artists have in common is the propensity to joke about their online search histories. With the knowledge base required for the scientists, this goes without saying, and artists can get their inspiration from some of the strangest or most disturbing places. On top of that, these two types of people seem equally likely to look something up out of curiosity, even if they’ll never use that piece of information ever again. They just like knowing things, and it’s something I can connect with as a writer who otherwise might not have much in common with them.
Unless you have a particular specialization or concentration, writers in my experience are “jack of all trades, master of none” types. We can all write, but otherwise we might not have much of a specialty, especially if we’re just starting out and haven’t found our niche. To make up for this, we tend to be phenomenal researchers and collectors of knowledge and information. I don’t believe much in the “write what you know” adage that so often gets tossed my way, but I do believe that if you’re going to write something and you don’t know about it in any detail, you need to learn.
This is something that’s become particularly true for me since I started getting more freelance writing jobs. While nothing that I research for those jobs is entertaining in the “you’re probably on a watch list” kind of way, I’m still learning and researching a lot of things that would never have crossed my mind otherwise (and confusing ad algorithms to no end, I’m sure). This even game up at a game night, where one of our scientist buddies observed that I must have a really extensive knowledge base. So, against my better judgment, I went back into my search history and decided to take an honest look at what kinds of things I’ve taken the time to learn for my art. The results were… interesting.
For your amusement, intrigue, and possible terror, here are some of the better entries in my search engine history, with minimal context (because complete context would take the fun out of it). In the interest of not sharing who I’m doing freelance work for, every result here was researched for a piece of fiction that I at least got to the planning stage of.
- Baby name meanings. You know you write fiction if this is in your search history. Because the internet also knows that I’m a young married woman, this means that the only ads I get on my social media profiles are for baby things.
- Flash point of isopropyl alcohol.
- Kitchen sink repair. I don’t think you know how many different kinds of wrenches exist, you guys.
- Airfare (Chicago, Illinois to Portland, Maine).
- The combination of “slaughterhouse,” “common carotid artery,” and “jugular vein.” I counted these as one list item because they’re so similar and I researched them all right in a row.
- Turing test. This actually came up in the same project as the above combination of words. It was for a class. My professor loved it.
- Sword types.
- Sepsis. Making up diseases like it’s my job.
- Enhanced interrogation techniques. That was an awfully polite way for me to put it.
- Spin kicks. I was trying to see if they were possible or even effective in combat or self-defense. Hint: They’re possible, but there are better things you could be doing in a situation where your life depends on it.
- Metals of antiquity.
- Lead diacetate. Specifically, what kind of applications or uses it has and where it would be possible to obtain some.
- Latin word list. This is my go-to list whenever I need to find a Latin word to corrupt into something magical-sounding.
- Greek words by first letter. Similar reasons to the above.
- Gender dysphoria. I was in the early stages of writing a transman protagonist and was doing some preliminary research before I really got into the story or started asking actual transmen about their experiences. It’s some of the most valuable research I think I’ve done, if not in a writing sense then in a “being a better and more empathetic person” sense.
- Chest binder. Exact same reasons as the above.
- Color vision in dogs. I’ve actually been able to come back to this one a couple of times. Allegedly they get yellow, blue, and gray.
- Effects of being drugged. I’ve been under anesthesia several times, so I sort of have a concept of this. However, that was in a safe, controlled environment, which this particular character was not in.
- Photographing translucent objects/translucent objects on camera.
- Disarm a gunman/attacker.
- Restraining orders.
- Drywall material.
- Homeland Security Advisory System (Code Red/Red Alert). For adapting into a fictional but similar advisory system.
- Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse/Biblical Horsemen. These guys have come back a couple of times in a few different forms.
- Archangels. They come with the Horsemen as a set, usually.
- Studio apartment layout (250 square feet). Just to get some ideas of how one character’s home would be set up.
- Sci-fi force field sound effect. You know the noise. I was trying to listen to it or figure out what makes it so I could describe it. It’s surprisingly difficult to find Foley work for a specific sound, though.
- Uneven bars.
- Abusive relationships. The psychology and behavior patterns, more specifically.
- Gem cuts/shapes/jewelry settings. This comes up more than you think it would.
- Disability. In the sense of “What would it take for an American to get disability benefits?”
- Wisconsin topography.
- Popping a dislocated shoulder into place. It’s possible if you have a trusted friend to help you, but leave it to the professionals unless you can’t get medical attention within a day.
- Cults/new religious movements.
- Tarot. Before I learned how to read cards, I looked up everything I could about them: spreads, individual cards, various interpretations, etc. Eventually I broke down and bought a deck, but I still use online resources if I need a bit of extra help.
- 103-degree fever in adults. This is considered a high-grade fever. Get medical attention, like, now.
- Stages of death.
- Painted buntings.
- Decay. I wanted some image references.
- Historical lycanthropy. I’ve talked about this previously.
- Closed head injuries.
- Congenital illnesses/disorders.
- Fantasy maps/map-making.
I learned a couple of things from this exercise. One, that my search history is way more eclectic than it is questionable; and two, that a lot of what I look up doesn’t end up being used in nearly as much detail as I thought it would. Some of these terms ended up sprinkled in dialogue to establish a character as an expert in a particular field, but some ended up not being used at all.
Have you ever looked up anything that might raise a few eyebrows? Share your favorites in the comments!