By Stephanie Bearce
Writing nonfiction ALWAYS means research. Sometimes it involves deep dives into the library stacks or wandering through jungles of internet information. But other times it means plunging into the ocean with a jellyfish, crawling through caves hunting for bats, or scaling crumbling cliffs collecting fossils.
I've had some of my best adventures doing research for nonfiction projects. I've crawled through rooms full of artfully arranged skulls to learn about the Paris Catacombs. I've spent hours sitting outside in subzero temperatures to understand the mating habits of Gray Wolves, and I've traveled to the rivers of Australia to watch platypus play in their own environment.
Each adventure has given me insight that I never could have found in a library or on a YouTube video. I learned that the adorable platypus is a hyperactive little bugger. He is constantly diving for food, coming back up to gasp for air with sides heaving and body still wriggling. In seconds he dives back down to waggle his bill through the mud hunting for supper. The best way to track a platypus is to watch for the air bubbles that escape when he is underwater. Follow the bubbles and eventually you will see the platy surface.
I've learned how to tell who is the Alpha male in a pack by the way the wolves hold their tails. The alpha male's is usually straight out even with his back.
I also know that the easiest way to tell a fossilized bone from a rock is to lick it. The porous nature of the bone will cause it to stick to your tongue. And yes, it is better if it is a clean fossil - but when in the field...
I'm really excited about my next adventure. I'm headed to Lyme Regis, England. Home of fossil hunter Mary Anning. I'm going to spend time in her home town, read her papers, climb her fossil cliffs, and hopefully spot a few of the fossils that made her famous.
What will I learn about her that I couldn't find in the library or on the internet?
I'm not sure!
And that's a part of the adventure. I know that by walking in her footsteps and seeing the place where she lived and died, I will learn something new. Something that I hope will make my book about her unique and enthralling for middle grade readers.
It is not physically or financially feasible for authors to investigate each of their topics in person. But on those rare occasions when you are able to dive into the ocean with a scientist or walk in the footsteps of history - take advantage. Go on the adventure and soak up the knowledge. Your story will be all the better for it.
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