Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Panel Discussion: How much research do you do?

Debora Geary
As little as possible.  My books don't have a lot of need for research, and most of what I need can be managed with a quick Google search.  I like finding images online that inspire a character or setting, but I usually try to avoid digging much deeper than that.  My novella has knitting, guppy sex, and database management—sadly all from the clutter in my own head.
In Matchmakers 2.0, I managed to write myself into a situation where I needed to know sexual compatibility for different astrological signs.  That kind of research can be really distracting...

Terrence O’Brien
Any work of fiction weaves around the real world. Authors use real cities, nations, historical figures, and events as a setting for the fictional story. Think of the real things as a stage on which the fiction plays out. So I have to learn about that stage before I can use it or determine how it will fit into the story. In my case, I had a fictional story taking place in modern times, but it is based on real events and organizations from eight hundred years ago.

So I studied the history of the Templars, Crusades, medieval banking, Nazari Islam, and the Church. There is enough material in that real history to inspire a thousand novels. Why make up everything when we already have such a rich trove of history at our disposal. A reader might observe he doesn’t see all that history in the book, but for me greatest value of that research is in the fictional ideas it sparks.

The more I learn about the history and setting, the better the fictional ideas become. Since I wrote a book that redirects history a bit, it really does help to know what I’m redirecting.

Valmore Daniels
For the "Fallen Angels" saga, I had a very intensive research session. I've always been fascinated with the classical elements, and I explored how different cultures—Greek, Buddhist, Chinese, Western—perceived these elements and their role in their respective societies. Although I've tailored the aspects and traditions of these elements to suit my story, I've based the attributes of the elements primarily on the Western systems. 

The other side of the coin is the divine element: the incorporation of angels from a biblical perspective, and how they may have influenced the entire history of humankind for purposes that may or may not be in our best interests. To research this aspect of the story, I've read and compared dozens of versions of the Book of Genesis, as well as referencing other mythologies, such as Islamic and Hindu mysticism concerning these transcendent beings.

Tiffany Turner
I base a lot of my books on fairy myths and legends.  I first start with initial research which gives me a lot of my character and plot ideas to start a book. Then, as I'm writing, I continue to research as need for characters develop or an action dictates a mythical explanation. Research and writing go hand in hand. For myself, they are often back and forth. I write with a window open to search on the Internet while I'm writing a draft of a manuscript. That way I can instantly check on ideas, names, and become inspired by any research I find.
Author of The Crystal Keeper Chronicles
Contact for Celtic Circle
Gaelic Harp and Irish Storytelling

Dawn McCullough-White
My books- The Cameo Series are set in a fantasy version of the 18th century, with the main character who is an assassin.  The books have a good share of violence in them, so I did quiz my sister who is an LPN with questions that went something like, “could a person survive this?”  For my first book I researched smallpox.  I used Wikipedia for some basic information.  For the second novel I spent a good deal of time researching the French revolution, as there was a revolution fifteen years earlier in my series.  I wanted to get an idea of what some real atrocities that may have happened were like, what the leaders of the revolution were like, and what factored into the break down in society, and resulted in the revolution. 

I read the book Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr, which is an excellent book and gave a very balanced view of who Robespierre was.  I also read everything I could find online about Robespierre and the revolution.  I watched the History Channel's documentary over and over, and spent some time online on ebay and auction sites looking at the antique furniture of the time.  I poured over photos of France for inspiration.  One of the most horrible facts I discovered was that as the revolution went on soldiers started to become bored and would bake mothers and their babies in bread ovens for fun.  That was so upsetting to me that I knew I'd make mention of it in the second book. 

For the third book I've done some research about drug use, specifically laundanum.  There are several sites online dedicated to laundanum drinking, which is what it was apparently called back in the 19th century.  I read the history of laundanum and even what the bottles it came in looked like, so I could keep it accurate.  Laundanum actually dates back to 15th century.  The one thing though, that I can't be certain of, is what it is really like to take laundanum, (I wasn't about to try it myself) and so in my third novel the name of the drug will have to be changed to something that doesn't exist, because I simply have no idea what affect it would really have on someone.  Reading about it just won't be enough research to be accurate for me and I don't want someone to email me about how I know nothing about the topic. 

While I'm here I'd love to suggest this website “Old and Interesting”: http://www.oldandinteresting.com/  A site I've used many times when I want to win an argument with my editor about what the bedding was like back in the 18th century, or odd tidbits about the time period I'm writing about.  As you can probably tell, research is half the fun of writing fiction for me.  I really enjoy history, so doing the research for a novel is a joy for me.

Michael Sullivan
I write Medieval fantasy so there are always many things I need to research…weapons…horses…castle design…battle techniques…sword fighting.  I’ve been writing for 30 years (pre-dating Internet) and research used to be excruciatingly difficult as the nearest library was 80 miles away.  The most research I had to perform was for The Emerald Storm in which a major portion of the book occurs on a ship. So there was a lot of research on rigging, food on board, chores, language, etc. 
One thing I think is important for writers to keep in mind is that just because you learned something doesn’t mean it has to make it into the story. Research provides realism to the scenes you are writing but some authors are so proud that they know a little fact about x or y or z that they feel compelled to work it into the story…even if it has no place.  The real trick is knowing how much to leave in and how much to leave out and how to get the information across without it sounding like a college lesson.
Twitter: author_sullivan

Daniel Arenson
I write fantasy, and my novels always include mythological deities, strange creatures, and magic.  I generally invent these creatures myself.  In "Eye of the Wizard", there are no trolls, orcs, or elves.  Instead, I invented my own creatures -- spiderlings, moldmen, grobblers, roogs, and more.  However, real mythology definitely inspires me.  I can spend hours reading about folklore, learning about different gods, epic stories, and magical creatures.  That inspires me to create my own mythological worlds.  Since my stories are often set in pre-industrial societies, I also spend hours studying history.  I love reading about Ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece, Israel; medieval Europe and medieval Asia; and more.  If I'm not careful, I can find myself reading history articles all day.  I feel this, too, helps me create rich, authentic fantasy worlds.

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