Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Various Journeys of Research

Embarking on a career as a romance fiction novelist, one of the first things I learned I had to do well was research. Whether it be the time, or the place, or both, when my book takes place, what my characters do for a living, I better know my facts. Even when I'm making up my own alternate worlds or history, there have to be "facts" about whatever that world is.

Back in my early days of writing, there was no internet, so just about all of my research was dependent on paper books - libraries and bookstores were frequent haunts. I amassed quite a collection of books about the times I wrote in, the clothing and cuisine of various cultures and eras, and covering a wide array of other subjects pertinent to whatever period I found myself writing in.  I remember the days when we first moved in the house, had no kids (other than my dearly departed - and still missed - Beezer, a black cat w/six toes on her front feet who liked to sit in my lap as I wrote), and what is now my son's bedroom was my office. I had two desks - one with the word processor/computer, the other covered with a ton of books opened and flagged, highlighted and dog-eared so I could refer back to the facts as needed. Wow. Haven't thought about those days in a really long time - have to say, I think I like the little corner in the far end of the basement I have now even better. lol

The advent of the internet changed a lot of things for me. Suddenly, I could find the books I needed online and bought as many as I could, cutting down on time spent in bookstores. And libraries – I no longer had to renew a book for months on end – I now had my very own copy! I'd spend hours immersed in those books, looking for the right detail to include to propel the plot.

A few years later, the internet offered still more – papers and articles and blog posts started appearing and, suddenly, I could find just about anything I needed online. I bookmarked tons of pages, saved a million more, and even printed many of them so I could have the info on hand without having to go back out to the web while writing.

I learned how to use certain terms in my searches for info, so I could pinpoint just what I needed, and in the process, discovered some amazing sites. Sites that held me enthralled with the information they covered. And herein lay the problem –  it's fairly simple to get caught up reading about something, but on the internet, it's so much easier to get lost in the search for details. Read one article and there's usually a link to somewhere else with still more info, maybe even a link to something never seen or heard of before during all the other research sessions.And another link, and another, and yeah, you see what I mean, right?

A great many of my research hunts went (and still go) something like this:

"Did people do this then? Insert various years and cultures. There, that's the one. Click. OK, not quite what I needed, but wait, that's pretty cool, wonder how to make that fit into the WIP. What's this? Another link? Hmm, wonder what that means. Click. Oooooh, yes, that looks like just what I was looking for. Click. Never heard of THAT before, but it sure would fit perfectly into that other scene. Click. Who knew? Another factoid that will come in handy. Click. Click. Click. Etc., etc., etc. Wait, how did THREE HOURS pass by so fast?"

Yeah, it's so obvious I love the research aspect of writing, and I suspect just about every author does, no matter what they write, but dang, it takes little to no effort to get lost on a never-ending journey, and while it's a journey that teaches so much, the downside is losing writing time. There are a few things I learned from this after really being annoyed that I could have whipped out several pages to a chapter, or even more, instead of searching for minutiae about my setting.

First, whatever series I am working on, I need to figure out when and where the story takes place. Then I do a quick rundown of the sites and/or books that will provide me the most details about what I need to make each scene realistic, and read through those sites/books in the very beginning stages of the novel. One thing I learned - every two or three websites with the info I needed simply reinforced facts I'd dug up long ago in my personal hard-copy library. I'll give the internet points for being a bit faster.

The other thing I've chosen to do in many of my books is to use more detail in some scenes than in others. There are a few reasons I do this. One is that, as a reader, I actually like to fill in some of the details myself, when it comes to certain story aspects. The other is that too much detail can drown out important interactions between the characters. No doubt using details specific to the time and place make the story come alive. Lord knows I have lists (in spreadsheet form, natch! :D ) of some of the most fascinating factoids I will always be searching for a way to include in a book. Still, it's the characters who drive the book for me, and that is almost always my main focus when writing, even when there's a lot of action in various scenes.

I have to admit, finding obscure nuggets of info that I can and have turned into gems of a plot point are the most rewarding results of a research journey. For instance, when I stumbled across the official proclamations made at the execution of the Welsh prince, Dafydd, I knew I had to include it in Warrior's Possession in an attempt to make the history come alive. The execution scene is one that has always been part of the book, but now, to me, it had even more impact, giving a bit of insight into Edward I and the thoughts of many of the nobility (and even the entire population) of the time.

But I must be careful when exploring - I suspect a good portion of authors can attest to greeting the sun when it rises after spending hours seeking out tidbits that enhance and propel their story. The allure of discovering the fascinating trivia of a time or place that contributes to our world-building is as alluring as putting that world into words.

Knowing I'm not the most disciplined person in the world has led me to put some self-imposed requirements on my research. For instance, there's now a set time-limit for jaunts, especially if they happen to coincide with writing time. Honestly, sometimes, you just have to go find some logical item/factoid to keep the scene going. I either cut myself off after a set time (usually 10 minutes max), or limit myself to when I find that one detail needed at that specific moment (if it happens to be found before the time limit max). And even if there is no logical reason to include those other details, they will come in handy someday. You know I have notes to go back and dig deeper through for even more stories. ;) 

On another note, Warrior's Possession is available through most online distributors - now including NOOK at Barnes & Noble! Here's where you can get your hand on this scorching erotic romance that's so hot, it just might fry your Kindle  (or Nook)!

Barnes & Noble:



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