Taking From Our World to Build Something New

Much like Cass, I am, by training, as much a historian as I am a writer. I took more history classes in college than I did English classes by a fairly wide margin. (I don’t, however, have a history degree because I stupidly refused to take one class, taught by a racist old white dude, that was not taught by anyone else and required for the degree. Way to go, 20-year-old Kaitlyn.) It was natural, then, for me to do a ton of research whilst writing The Diminished.

I’ve talked a bit in this space about the geographical research I did to get the details right for Alskad (Alaska) and Ilor (Hawaii). Any time I chose a detail while writing (and I am talking ANY TIME), I turned to my friend Ms. Google.

The purple silk jacket was festooned with scads of embroidery; colorful birds and flowers exploded from my shoulders, trailing down the sleeves and to the wide hem that brushed the floor.

Wait, wait, wait… Can I have purple in Alaska? Turn to Ms. Google. Finds an article titled, “Local Fungi to Dye For.” Indeed, I can have purple, and without even having to go through the trouble of importing it from one of the other countries I made up loosely based on real places! Hoorah!

(a moment later)

Should it be imported though? Bo is royalty after all…

And on and on like that for 135,000 words. Writing is fun. In the course of writing The Exalted I’ve searched for things like:

  • How long can a person live if you flay the skin off their arm? (Don’t worry, that scene got toned down a bit.)
  • How to build a massive human or water-powered fan? (Not easily, but it can be done. It doesn’t happen, but it was an interesting thought experiment for a while. You try to make engineering interesting in a YA novel.)
  • How long would it take to sail from Alaska to Portland? (4-5 days give or take)
  • How to make steel? (combine iron ore with carbon– who knew?)
  • Iron ore in Alaska? (Nope, but there is iron ore in British Columbia, and that works for me.)

I do a lot more initial research these days, reading about the economics, sociology, and folklore of a region before I even start writing, even if I’m writing about a place with which I am intimately familiar, and a lot of that research informs the way I construct my stories.

What are the best bits of research you’ve done while writing? I’d love to hear from you!

Author: Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

Kaitlyn Sage Patterson grew up with her nose in a book outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After completing her M.F.A., she moved to South Korea, where she taught English and started writing her debut novel. THE DIMINISHED will be published by HarlequinTEEN in April 2018, followed by its sequel in 2019. When she's not staring off into space and trying to untangle some particularly troublesome plot point, she can be found in her kitchen, perfecting the most difficult recipe she can find; or at the barn, where she rides and trains dressage horses; or with her husband, spoiling their sweet rescue dogs.