Every once in awhile I vow to stop wasting time on the internet, where "wasting time" equals all those activities that neither strengthen relationships with friends and family nor do anything to build my career as a writer. But somehow there are always a few corners of the internet where I just lurk because I find the subject matter interesting even though I don't know a soul involved. Since I'm just watching silently from the virtual sidelines, I'm not even making new friends or driving anyone there to think, "Hey, that's right. Susanna writes books. I should buy one."
But just last week I came across facts that made a major character in my historical fantasy WIP's background fall into place for me...while "wasting time." You see, one of those boards where I lurk got into a discussion of a documentary that first aired a year or so ago on UK Channel 4 called "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding." (Following the link takes you to the first segment on YouTube.) It's about Roma and Irish Traveller weddings, and it's pretty much what you'd expect based on the title. A lot of gawking at the big, garish dresses--20-foot trains! Crinolines so poofy the bride can't walk gracefully or even fit in a church aisle without smooshing her skirts--leavened with a bit of social commentary on the Roma and Traveller ways of life and the prejudices they face from mainstream Britons.
Being me, after I finished watching the doc on YouTube, I started looking up modern nomadic groups online to see what else I could learn. I happened across a reference to Scottish Highland Travellers, followed a few links, and ended up on this site.
Now, the protagonist of my WIP is of moderately good family--father a minister, distant cousin of a Highland laird, and so on--but after her parents died she and her sister were raised by her outlaw grandfather. I'd imagined her growing up in some isolated cottage, but as soon as I read about the Highland Travellers I realized the grandfather would've taken refuge among such a group. He'd be able to travel about below the official radar and keep practicing his craft. (I don't want to give away too many details of this story before it's done, so suffice it to say his particular method of fighting supernatural evil isn't approved of by the authorities.) And it gives my protagonist a perfect background to be tough, resourceful, and adept at living under rough conditions and traveling constantly--all things she'll need to do over the course of her story.
And I never would've figured that out if I hadn't been wasting time.