A good writer should strive to write what you know; or at least know what you write, by doing enough research so you have a grasp of whatever odd situation or weapon your battered noir detective is facing down in a dark alley. But there’s a third element I find invaluable to worldbuilding, and that’s stuff that I neither know, nor set out to research. The random influence.
(AKA the bouncing reality-based Plotbunny Spawner OF DOOM. Capital letters non-optional.)
Sometimes it’s a news article. Sometimes recent science reports. Blog feeds. Often the new book shelf at the library can raise this chaos. You never know.
(“Florida Man Strikes Again” is a tag Instapundit puts on crazy news stories from… well, guess. Everything from fugitive thieves eaten by alligators to a guy crashing a building at 88 MPH in the name of attempted time travel. Yep. That happened, not far from here. Oy.)
Whatever the source, something in the story or topic strikes me as odd. Off-kilter. Just a little askew from how the world normally works, or how most people see it. So I poke it, and sometimes print/borrow it and take it home.
And from there, sometimes, come two things: plotbunnies, or background info for stories I plan to write / was already writing.
A few examples: Heavy metals in the brain, bad. The bloodhound breed originated from St. Hubert’s hound – yes, the same St. Hubert invoked against werewolves. The mind’s image of the body is apparently flexible and can be rewired under certain circumstances. It’s possible to train someone to use whiskers to locate themselves in space. Petrification attacks don’t work on undead. Elucidator is, SAO canon, a demonic sword.
(That last one is a key element in my outline for SAO/BE, which I will write someday, dagnabbit!)
I love the random tidbits, because to me they make the fictional world more real. If we run into things that make us go “huh!” in real life, so should characters.
Of course, given that everything should be in a plot for a reason, then you need to figure out a way to make it important to whatever other mess the character’s in. That might be just local color… or it might be the clue to defeating the invading Evil Overlord! You never know.
…If somebody does write a story where the main character uses artificial whiskers in the final blacked-out battle to save the universe, drop me a line. I want to read that one!