Dark, No Light: First Hand Experience vs Research

Sometimes first hand experience trumps all other types of research.

I just finished listening to the audiobook for Killers of the Flower Moon, a prohibition era true-crime story.  It tells of the creation of the FBI and attempts to figure out why so many wealthy Osage are dying.  It also describes the full-on darkness of open countryside when electric lights were a new thing.

I thought I got what the author was saying.  I have experienced this type of darkness but it has, admittedly, been a while.  Saturday night storms rolled through our area.  A lot of people lost their electricity.  It was full dark Sunday when a friend asked if her son could spend the night with us.  Sure!  We have electricity and I’m more than willing to share.  I hopped in the car and headed two blocks away to pick him up. . .

Wow.  Trying to pick out the right house in a row of houses with similar floor plans was impossible.  And the color of the house?  Useless.  Our eyes need a certain amount of light to perceive color.  I could even spot the Texas star hanging on the outside of their house.

Fortunately, the headlights of another car illuminated the front of the house.  Otherwise I might still be looking.  I had gained first had experience that made the research all the more meaningful.

Do you ever try things out on your own when you are writing something?  Or do you rely on other people’s research?

Granted, first had experience isn’t always possible if your character is flying about on a broom or cloning a dinosaur.  But you can cook the foods your character would eat.  You can listen to music, hike the trails, or make the hand craft.

After all, many things are easier to describe if you have first experienced them.  Use both research and experience to bring your readers the detail that will shed light on the world of your story.