The things I do for my characters… They ask for my help and too often I can’t turn them down. So, the next thing you know, I’m off on the internet asking questions on their behalf. Questions I am sure will eventually get me put on a list somewhere. (Don’t ask me about voices and listening to my characters, that is just something writers do.)
And other writers also know this: readers expect accuracy. Heck, I expect it in what I read and definitely in what I write. So when one of my characters needs to know about something, I go off and do research. In the “good o’ days” that would have been encyclopedias, libraries, and perhaps asking friends or looking for someone knowledgeable (high school and college professors are great people to get some interesting bits of information from).
I’ve also purchased quite a few reference books. I own The Peterson Field Guide to Venomous Animals & Poisonous Plants. I bought a book on the International Mars Mission that details quite a bit of what would be needed to get to Mars (it was more of a 800 page scientific report than a text-book and was for a scfi story I had started a few years ago). I kept all my math, chemistry, and physics text books, as well as one I bought on DNA sequencing (I think that one has gotten outdated). You just never know what might come in useful.
However, today, I find myself hitting the internet far more often than I refer to reference books (which is good and bad). I’ve done quite a few google searches for odd things. Most of them are innocent enough, such as alternative healing. However, I’ve researched poisons and toxins several times for Owin’s story as well as for Henton and others in the Heirs of Cothel Series. Which led to that search above.
For those things, since the world is one of my own creation, I was looking more for the accuracy that such poisons and toxins do exists than looking for specific recipes. I’ve changes the name of some plants and/or created brand new ones to take the place of things in our world (a lot of plants have names that are too fixed in our world). For me, in those cases, the fact that such things exist was more important than providing specifics as to how to actually make them.
As I write more stories, I’ll continue my searches and continue to hope that my on-line habits are innocent enough that no one is watching too closely. Of course, it helps that I am not writing about modern, real-world people and places, so I’m not using those keywords.