Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gems in Hidden Books

Every writer does research. Whether for non-fiction articles, books, or essays or for marketing that new story that’s hot off the keyboard, we delve into some esoteric corners on the off-chance of finding a gem that can be used as the centerpiece of some new project.

In the past year I’ve managed to dive into fascinating subjects with so much potential that I’m without direction as to the best use for the material.

For instance, there the global warming issue from both the environmental and the political viewpoints. Bits and pieces could be used for great articles with slants not expected by the average reader, or articles for children to help them derive an understanding of the issues involved, or as the basis for sci-fi stories extraordinaire.

Which way should I go? It’s not like the subject is going away soon. It’s around to stay and getting more complex each day, with plenty of twists along the way to create plotlines for sci-fi, YA survivalist faire, a murder mystery surrounding a leading scientist who’s discovered how to help halt the progression of the marching ice fields. You see what I mean.

How about those hidden gems that can be used for a character’s profession or hobby? Here’s one that brought me to a point of practicing an almost lost art: knots and splices.

What are they? Mariners and their land-grubbing laborer cousins have practiced tying knots and splicing ropes together for thousands of years. This was and is a practical knowledge that can be used for many purposes. My “Pocket Guide to Knots & Splices” by Des Pawson sits beside my copy of “Leather Braiding” by Bruce Grant.

You might ask why I’d have such disparate volumes on my reference shelf. I’ll tell you. In the first place, I thoroughly enjoy learning new skills. With each new knot or braiding technique practiced and mastered, I will have a concrete example of the craft involved.

Secondly, I can use this knowledge for any number of characters. I can have one of my mystery characters always craft a Turk knot on a gift package. The knot done in leather, for instance, acts as an additional gift for the receiver. This act of thoughtfulness becomes a trademark for that character. Or, I can write a short story about a fencer who’s just begun work with battle swords instead of epees and has to fashion the grip covering on the hilt of his newly acquired broadsword. It can be done in leather or in flat silk cording, as the Samurai once did. The very act of making that decision could make for a turning point for that particular character.

What if I had a character that made art with decorative knots that behaved as the anchoring point of her textile art that sold for thousands of dollars? Everything from Celtic knots to old sailors knots would work well for the story point.

I could do a character that makes bull whips for sale. Those use both leather braiding of a specialty type and special knotting.

Just these three subjects could keep a person busy with ideas for months or more. I often ask myself if there are dull subjects. I figure there are a few, but only because they don’t catch the imagination of the person looking at them. All subjects, I think, can be used for some form of writing, even if it’s only a silly piece of background business in a manuscript. If the writer is clever, that bit of business can become a telling clue or piece of a puzzle for later in the story.

Now that you’ve seen some of the stuff I’m likely to submerge myself into, look at your own preferences. I dare you. Find three of those esoteric subjects in hidden books and see just how many uses to which you can put the information. Then tell me about it. I’m always willing to learn something new.

Until later,


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