The Story Behind the Story: Mister Tidwell, Gunner

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L. Ron Hubbard wrote an article entitled “Search for Research.” In it, he shares the story behind his story “Mister Tidwell, Gunner” and how he came to write it.

“A short time ago I began to search for research on the theory that if I could get a glimmering of anything lying beyond a certain horizon, I could go deep enough to find an excellent story.

“I stopped doing what I used to do. There was a time when I expected a story to blaze up and scorch me all of its own accord. I have found, however, that there is a premium on divine fire and it is not very bright when used by a pulpateer. This gentleman has to write an immortal story about once every three days to keep eating.

“On this plan I began to read exhaustively in old technical books, ancient travel books, forgotten literature. But not with the idea of cribbing. I wanted information and nothing else. I wanted to know how the people used to think here, how the land lay there. Given one slim fact for a background, I have found it easy to take off down the channel of research and canal-boat out a cargo of stories.

“In other words. I have no use for an obvious story idea as laid out in Popular Mechanics or Forensic Medicine. I want one slim, forgotten fact. From there a man can go anywhere and the story is very likely to prove unusual.

“In one old volume, for instance, I discovered that there was such a thing as a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.

“That was a weird one. Why should Nelson want a schoolmaster?

“Answer: Midshipmen.

“When did this occur?

“Answer: The Napoleonic Wars.

“Ah, now we’ll find out how those old ships looked. We’ll discover how they fought, what they did.

“And there was the schoolmaster during battle. Where? In the ‘cockpit’ helping hack off arms and legs.

“Next lead indicated: Surgery during the Napoleonic Wars.

“Wild guess in another allied field: Gunnery.

“Again: Nelson.

“A battle: On the Nile.

“A ship or something strange about this battle: L’Orient, monster French flagship which mysteriously caught fire and blew up, throwing the weight of guns to Nelson.

“Incidental discovery: ‘The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck’ was written about the son of L’Orient’s skipper.

“Back to midshipmen, the King’s Letter Boys: They were hell on wheels, arrogant, ghastly urchins being trained as officers.

“And with all this under my mental belt, I girded up my mental loins. Complete after a few days of search, I had ‘Mister Tidwell, Gunner,’ which appeared in Adventure.

“All that because I chanced to find there was a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.”

 

Read and listen to Mister Tidwell, Gunner

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