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Those of you who have had to Research...

Do your projects have a specfic element (this includes a sci-fi story that needs Research for veracity) or are you writing straight historicals? If they are specfic, which takes precedence, the fantastical element or history/true life? Where is your emphasis? How do you reconcile the two? How do you know that the magic, mythology-come-true, or what have you contributes to the story and doesn't just neatly turn the focus?

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( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
mindseas
Nov. 5th, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)
I have done research for novels or scenes set in prehistoric times, but I always remind myself that there are things scientists have yet to discover, so I always go with my novel's vision. For instance, perhaps some species of prehistoric animal has not been discovered in a certain region, but I want it there. If it's not too different from its known habitats, I just decide that its bones haven't yet been found there, but it will be there for my novel.

My sf is based on science that I have dreamed up, which I very loosely tie in to things known today. My feeling is that more fantastic forces and properties will be discovered rather than fewer, so I can have my "science" do anything I want it to do, as long as it's self-consistent. I guess, in the end, it's really no different from magic!
mnfaure
Nov. 6th, 2007 07:12 am (UTC)
I always go with my novel's vision

I think that when it comes down to it, we have to let the story come first. None (most?) of us are not writing non-fiction, so we are allowed to make the fiction shine.
bkdunn
Nov. 5th, 2007 05:35 pm (UTC)
My experience, fwiw...
Hey Miq. So my novel(s) is/are straight-up historical with some spec-fic elements. But on those, I think it's important to be deadly accurate since otherwise I'd come off as such an incredible poser it'd be, you know, bad. And for those, I don't think I can approach it from the standpoint of specific questions -- I need to know a good deal of everything (the location, military customs and details, 1940's Americana, etc.).

I also wrote a story in an SF future that required research on asteroids and mining. That was a little easier to approach since all I needed to do in there was give enough suggestions of knowing what I was talking about (e.g., reference some escape velocities, allude to existing research regarding how asteroid mining would work, look up names of some platinum-containing minerals).

What's the nature of the one you'll be working on? Historical setting? (Just curious.)
mnfaure
Nov. 6th, 2007 07:25 am (UTC)
Re: My experience, fwiw...
I think it's important to be deadly accurate since otherwise I'd come off as such an incredible poser it'd be, you know, bad.

Precisely why I want to do tons of research. You picked a pretty tricky period, too, because there are still people alive who remember those times. On the upside, it should be easy to get lots of good info. Maybe too easy though? I can see the research stretching out and out and...well, I guess I'm not helping, am I? *g*

What's the nature of the one you'll be working on? Historical setting? (Just curious.)

Actually these are things I'm still trying to work out. I know the key setting is "Babylonia."

Hmmm, I started writing a drawn-out reply, so I think I'll just shoot you an email insted. :P
pjthompson
Nov. 5th, 2007 10:22 pm (UTC)
Mine is mostly historical, although I've delved into some scientific. You have to narrow your focus somehow, I think, but within that narrow focus, I try to be as accurate as I can be. There are always unknowns, so I let the spec fic play in those areas. And there is another realm of information that will probably only be known by experts. If you're writing for a general audience--not experts, not pure historical fiction, not pure science--then you probably have a bit more leeway. But I do feel that I personally need to know as much as I can within that narrow range in order to give a verisimilitude. For Night Warrior, for instance, I did quite a lot of reading re: the late 5th-early 6th century over a broad spectrum and tried to make my plot and character fit within the known facts and to have a good general feel for the way life was then. But I also did a certain amount of research-as-it-was-called-for. As things would come up in the narrative--i.e., what kind of weapons my warriors were likely to have--I'd hit the books again until I'd figured it out. Probably not enough to suit an expert on that period, but enough (I think) to give a true flavor of the time period. In the end you're telling a fictional story, which means you're going to diverge here and there, but I personally like to know the facts and what I'm diverging from--and try not to diverge if possible.
mnfaure
Nov. 6th, 2007 07:53 am (UTC)
You have to narrow your focus somehow, I think, but within that narrow focus, I try to be as accurate as I can be.

*nods* I need to find that focus first, and then I can narrow it down and try to be even more focused.

For Night Warrior, your research really payed off for me because I felt the details really enriched the story and didn't *become* they story. They often forced the reader's preconceptions away from the defaults of medieval settings into a darker, even grittier past.

In the end you're telling a fictional story, which means you're going to diverge here and there, but I personally like to know the facts and what I'm diverging from--and try not to diverge if possible.

This is exactly what I want to avoid--diverging through ignorance.
pjthompson
Nov. 6th, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
For Night Warrior, your research really payed off for me because I felt the details really enriched the story and didn't *become* they story. They often forced the reader's preconceptions away from the defaults of medieval settings into a darker, even grittier past.

That's very nice to know! Thanks. :-)

This is exactly what I want to avoid--diverging through ignorance.

"Good research=good skimming." That's one valuable thing I got from that panel.
mnfaure
Nov. 8th, 2007 08:22 am (UTC)
"Good research=good skimming."

Ah, very handy to know.
(Deleted comment)
mnfaure
Nov. 6th, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
I think my project will end up falling under alternate history, too, but I haven't decided yet if the setting will be historical (what I'm leaning toward) or modern day (this really doesn't rock my boat for the chosen locale--unless it really *was* alternate history).

But I like to use as much science or history as possible. Not only does it provide a nice foundation (and boundaries) for me, but it's kind of a distraction method.

Yep, getting all the scientific and historical details right gives you scads of credibility for your areas where you politely ask the readers to suspend belief.

Once again, your last paragraph sums up exactly what I want to do. Many aspects of my plot are nebulous at this point, but it is the characters and their stakes that I want to carry the story, more so than any high-concept ideas.
footlingagain
Nov. 6th, 2007 11:29 am (UTC)
Ooh - some fascinating stuff here.

I have the feeling of a ramble coming on - so I'll inflict that on you later *g* Beloved and I are off for a walk soon and I don't want to rush the walk, or my response to your Q.

There - that's something for you to worry about ;-)
mnfaure
Nov. 8th, 2007 08:13 am (UTC)
Only worried that it won't come...
I'm still waiting for the ramble. hint-hint ;)
footlingagain
Nov. 8th, 2007 12:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Only worried that it won't come...
Ah, yes. The ramble....

What I'm working on at the moment is based on Greek mythology/tragedy and I've lived with the story for so long I rather arrogantly thought I knew it so well, it would just flow.

And it did - until I found myself thinking, 'Hang on - I've just used a metaphor that involves falconry. I don't recall the Greeks mentioning falconry...' and that brought me up short. So now I have to mark that passage and either delete it, or check later to see if I can leave it. (I do that rather than stop myself in full flight, but often the act of having to mark it stops the flight anyway!)

Then I found myself thinking, 'Well, I know Homer mentions that, but these stories were old when Homer was telling them - so would they even have done that?'

Somewhere along the way, I'd fallen out of the fantasy/mythology cart and onto the much bumpier historical fiction road. Or something like that.

So now I have to make sure that the historical details - such as they are, I'm trying to keep them to a minimum, as these characters probably never existed - are accurate. On the other hand, Homer doesn't bother too much with historical veracity.

What I suppose I'm trying to say is - if you can spare the time, lots of research first is preferable so that you have tons of information just stacked in your head. You know that they did/didn't hunt with hawks, have ivory combs, wooden pins and leather barettes to keep their hair up, only woollen cloaks or only linen sheets, without checking it. It gives richness to your vision, even if you don't use it specifically. You can drop in the details without even having to think about it, instead of having to stop yourself and make a note to check later.

In other words, learn from my mistakes ;-)

Wow, but I like to do things the hard way.... Enough rambling??? *g*

Edited at 2007-11-08 12:52 pm (UTC)
mnfaure
Nov. 8th, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
Fan of Hard
I can't seem to do anything if I don't do it the hard way. ;-)

One of the main things stumping me about this project is how deep I want to go down the specfic road. I can tell a good human-interest, mystery thriller type tale without putting too much fantasy into it. However, if I don't let any specfic in, like you said, the road is even bumpier. Everything has to hang together perfectly from a historical point of view.

There will be a bit more leeway with alternate history, say, but that all has to make sense in another way. Research any way you look at it, and I think you are right that the digging for details should go first.

Thanks for the ramble. :D
footlingagain
Nov. 8th, 2007 02:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Fan of Hard
It must be much easier to have the details in your mind and decide you don't need them, than to really get into the swing of the story only to find a little detail you really need, but hadn't thought of.

I'm sure next time I'll do much more background reading. Just have to make sure then that I don't spend months on 'research' as another way of putting off doing the hard graft of writing *g*
mnfaure
Nov. 8th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Fan of Hard
Just have to make sure then that I don't spend months on 'research' as another way of putting off doing the hard graft of writing *g*

This is the trap I'm afraid of falling into, in fact. Living on a tiny island has both its advantages and inconveniences. Getting a hold of books (be it buying or borrowing) is not the easiest of things. The Internet is great but harder to wade through and not necessarily the most authoritative source. :P
renakuzar
Nov. 6th, 2007 04:25 pm (UTC)
For my Garden, I cherry picked mythological and magical elements from the various cultures that fit with the story I was trying to tell.

There was no fantasy in that story that stood aside from the mythology of the era. Thus the unicorns are the unicorns of medieval legend: wild and dangerous beasts, the seas are populated by monsters, demons lurk to torment your body and steal your soul, etc. The characters expect these things because they are medieval characters, so there is no reconciliation needed.

I guess the Garden is mythological historical fantasy. As this is not at all typical, I doubt much my approach will be even remotely helpful.
mnfaure
Nov. 8th, 2007 08:21 am (UTC)
Cherry-picking is exactly what I thought to do (though I might restrict it to one tight geographical area). If I have two storylines going on, one set in the "quasi-mythological" past, and one set either in the 1800's or present day, I can get away with a lot; but I do want that level of character/cultural veracity to shine through in both.
pjthompson
Nov. 6th, 2007 06:15 pm (UTC)
It occurs to me a con report I did a few years back may be of some use to you:

http://pjthompson.livejournal.com/2005/11/26/

This was a panel on doing research for fiction, as it happens. :-)
mnfaure
Nov. 7th, 2007 11:29 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot. *clicks*
mnfaure
Nov. 8th, 2007 08:28 am (UTC)
Whenever I try that link, I get a message that says, "There were no entries on this date." :(
pjthompson
Nov. 8th, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
Try it again. I did one of those universal "make everything private" things and forgot to un-private that one! Duh.
mnfaure
Nov. 8th, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC)
*lol* *tries again*
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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