Unrelated to Varney the Vampire: Research Boner Time, Aviation Edition

So one of the things I love to do most in all the world, other than lie around reading books, is doing research for stuff I’m interested in. Right now I’m writing a novella about practical necromancy and air crash investigation, and therefore there is a lot of research being done at the moment.

And despite the ongoing dumpster fire that is reality — look around, look around, to see how lucky we are to be alive right now in a world where you can access practically any damn thing on the internet, at once, without even having to get up and go anywhere, or even put on pants. For example, I needed to know what route a fictional flight from Reagan National to Eppley Field in Omaha would take, and at first I started out going “welp, let’s find the navigational waypoints and imagine what route might be the most sensible between them,” before finding the most wonderful site I’ve encountered in ages, called iFlightPlanner. Which does what it says on the tin.

It shows you all the charts for the United States. There are a lot, and you have to look up how to read them, but that’s not difficult: the FAA has kindly provided a guide. The charts and the custom flight plan showed me all sorts of things I needed to know, such as roughly how long it would take from the point where the flight was handed off from one air traffic control center to its scheduled landing. If I’d needed to include the actual ATC transcript of the handoff I could have done that too, because there are lots of places around the internet where people ask questions about this and have answers provided. In this case it was reddit, but there are others.

And this is only one aspect of one project. The internet is an absolute treasure trove of information, readily available in incredibly useful ways (for the most part). When I was writing STRANGE PRACTICE and DREADFUL COMPANY, I used Google Street View heavily to give myself an accurate picture of what routes people would take to get from here to there, what landmarks they would encounter, what views they would see — because I can’t personally nip over to London or Paris for a fact-finding mission, lacking Ruthven’s cash flow. I could have worked out the routes with an ordinary map, but I wouldn’t have known what my characters would see on the way, and therefore wouldn’t be able to describe it, and I won’t write something I’m not pretty sure I can get right.

Which, of course, makes me That Person regarding other people’s research habits. It drives me nuts when people don’t bother to do any, and it almost drives me more nuts when the person has done a little bit of research but either completely misunderstood what they’ve read or failed to read any further, thus setting themselves up for great big glaring factual errors. The metric for this type of fail is the Dan Brown Scale of Did Not Do the Research, upon which Brown himself scores an eleven.

My point is that the internet is an enormous resource for writers — and because it’s such a vast repository of information and it is generally so easy to access, there is no excuse for not doing your due diligence. Back in the Cretaceous we had to rely on interlibrary loan and long hours in uncomfortable library carrels cramming information into our eyeballs: these days you can get very nearly anything you damn well please delivered directly.

Go forth and learn cool things!

(If you’re interested, here’s the flight plan and a closeup of the chart to give you an idea of what they look like. Ignore the groundspeed; I just needed to know the route.)

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