Discipline is a term used to describe an academic field of study. For example, psychology is a discipline, and history, etc.
How do you narrow down the fields you’ll need to research for a particular work? You might need to take sips from several glasses. Some examples follow.
- Psychology: The way people act and react in response to various stimuli that I, the author, might decide to torture them with (muwahaha)
- History: Setting the book in another period than my own; including events and developments from that period
- Medicine / biology: Anything that might affect the character’s health, detail an injury, etc.
What I choose to study will vary for any given work. Rose’s Hostage required me to learn about bank robbery, police and FBI investigation of that crime, interviewing a witness, and outlaw bikers.
For Tunerville, I read about ghost hunting, physics (ugh!), a bit of landscaping, and a medical thing I can’t share because I don’t want to spoil a critical moment.
Both books needed a bit more specific input than I could find in books, so I also spoke to experts in the respective disciplines. I talked to the FBI and to a retired police officer who was also one of my college criminology instructors (one of my favorite instructors overall, in fact).
If this sounds daunting, remember that it isn’t necessary for a writer to become an expert in a discipline in order to write about it. Some do enjoy studying, however, and it’s possible they find a new interest they weren’t aware of before they began research.
For example, after talking to so many cops, I have developed a serious interest in the quality and variety of available doughnuts.
Writers should strive to present details as close as possible to reality to help the reader suspend disbelief. If you’re writing about firefighters, you may have one as a reader. He or she is going to know when you get it wrong.
People love learning about protagonists who have unusual jobs as well. Look at the popularity of shows like Deadliest Catch, a reality program about Alaskan crab fishermen.
Despite this, don’t let the idea of writing about a certain discipline intimidate you. I had an idea a few years ago that involved mountaineering, about which I know absolutely nothing and probably will never do. I bought a couple of books about high-altitude climbing. If I ever write this story, I will most likely have to do it completely vicariously, because I am not physically able to climb mountains. Plus I’m afraid of heights, so NOPE.
Remember, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula without ever having seen or traveled to Transylvania, and he did it pretty well, too.