Thursday, September 21, 2017


When it comes to doing research for your writing, I say you can never do too much. What you shouldn't do is show off how much research you have done by putting in things you learned but don't advance the plot of your story.

And often, having done good research will enhance the story.

For example: in my novel Agent of Artifice, there was a scene at the Huntington Hotel in San Francisco. This is a real hotel on Nob Hill.

When I first wrote the scene, my character, Michael Vaughn, escapes a battle between magical people that I call "adepts." He goes down an internal staircase to escape.

Then I had an opportunity to take a trip to San Francisco and my hotel was a block away from the Huntington. So I went and looked at the hotel and I found there is no internal staircase, but fire escapes on the outside of the building. I then knew I had to rewrite that scene.

However, it turned into one of the better scenes in the book and set up the climax. In the first draft, he simply escaped. Rather boring. But in the rewrite it became this scene:

Down the hall, on the left of the elevator, I found a window overlooking a very steep street more than two floors below.  The Huntington is on the edge of Nob Hill.  But here was the fire escape.

I hesitated.  On the fire escape, I'd be easy prey for that flying nightmare.  But it was busy eleven floors above me.  

I opened the window and it screeched as I did—a sound that seemed loud enough to summon a demon, or a pterodactyl.

Once it was open enough, I put a leg out, stepped on the painted metal of the fire escape, and then pulled the rest of my body through the window.  I was shocked at how cold it was and how far down it was to the steeply sloping street.  And I could see the lowest fire escape was far above the cement—farther than I wanted to jump.

Not knowing what else to do, I scurried down the steep stairs which vibrated under my feet until I reached the bottom platform.  Here I could see there was a ladder that reached lower than the platform so the jump wouldn't be so bad. I approached it and noticed it was in two pieces and it looked as if one piece would descend if I put my weight on it.  I was studying this, trying to determine how to work it when a rush of wind interrupted my thoughts.  I turned but too late: pterodactyl claws grabbed my torso, wrapped around my body like a fleshy vise, and pulled me skyward, the beating of the wings blowing down on me as the claws held me so tight I couldn't breathe.  I didn't know why it just didn't eat me.  I was sure it would hurt less than what its claws were doing to me and the way my head was hanging down with the blood rushing to it.  I tried beating its claws with my hands but it felt as if I might as well beat on hardened steel.

The beast swooped upward and I noticed people on the street looking up in horror.  It was amazing how well I could see their faces despite our gaining altitude.

The pterodactyl swung in a tight arch in the narrow space between buildings, and headed for the Huntington's roof.  It skimmed over the edge so close I thought it was going to smash me into the tiles of the sloped part of the roof that was around the flat top of the building.

Without warning the animal stopped in midair with a horrible sound of twisting metal and its painful screams.  It dropped me, luckily only a few feet to the roof, but I landed on my hip and the pain shot through me.  I looked up to see the pterodactyl entangled in the Huntington's neon sign and the metal supports holding it.  As I watched, the sign—broken glass tubes raining down—started tilting back on the beast.

I ran, ignoring pain in my chest and legs.  The animal and the metal crashed into the roof mere inches behind me it seemed and the pterodactyl screamed, answered by shattering glass in buildings near the hotel. Bells rang in the towers of the cathedral across the street in resonance with the unearthly sound.

And that was a much better scene.

So do your research!

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