Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Research and that sort of thing

Wow, my last real post was at the beginning of August, and now it's September.  I knew I was letting things slide, but this is ridiculous! 

I recently read Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block.  One of the things he said made a lot of sense to me is that if you realize your subject is too far away from your experience to write convincingly there's nothing wrong with figuring out some way to bring the story closer to home.  

I tend to get frustrated because I'll come up with an idea and just know that no amount of research is going to make me able to write it convincingly.  I once mentioned a trunk novel where part of the story took place on a ship.  I've been on rowboats and motorboats, but I know nothing about actual sailing.  My plan was to take sailing lessons, only that didn't work out.  

Now, I could have look at diagrams and read old captain's logs and really get a sense of sailing that way.  But another thing I could have done was change the setting.  My story took place on a small island so my heroine would be trapped (the idea was to be Gothic) but surrounding a castle by an ocean isn't the only way to make it remote.  I could have set the castle on a crag, or in the depths of a dangerous forest or swamp.  

I think you have to have a certain amount of confidence in yourself to research a setting or plot point.  If in my heart of hearts I was convinced that I couldn't write my story without actually spending time on the water -if I didn't feel that I knew what I was talking about- how could I convince my readers?  

I had an idea for a story once that had me looking for information on crafting bronze swords.  I didn't feel like I had to take up sword-making in order to understand what I read.  I'd previously taken a couple pottery classes, which gave me a feel for what goes into hands-on work.  

When I first started pottery I was given a textbook.  There was a lot about glazes and chemical reactions, but all it did was show me that I knew even less about pottery than I thought.  It wasn't until I was halfway through the first semester that I had a clue what the writer was jabbering about.  If I'd tried to write about a potter based on text-books I would've gotten halfway through that book, then decided to give up and hide under my bed forever.  

Research is a tough subject because it varies from project to project.  How much you need is however much it take to feel confident in your work. 



  1. Sorry I took so long to respond, but it IS good to see posts from you again. {Smile}

    I think you have a good point about research. There are some things where your experience is close enough. Like you said, you haven't crafted _swords_, but you've crafted other things. At that point, I think the details are mainly the specific techniques. {smile}

    Other things aren't close enough. If you've never sailed, there's a lot more than just technique which you're missing. I've ridden, but never helped work the sails or steer... Still, I know when I'm talking to someone who has sailed much. They always seem much more aware of the currents, the wind, and the weather in a far more basic way than I ever am. I'd have a hard time capturing that, yet I know when that's missing in a character.

    So I see what you mean about sometimes it's easiest to change the story. Moving it off the ocean sounds like a pretty good step. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. Moving it off the ocean did give me some lovely ideas to play with. There are a couple character who you'd be able to meet and interact with much sooner, for one thing.

    The currents and stuff- exactly! I've visited the ocean a couple times, but I never know when it's high or low tide (from the time of day. I can see if there's more or less beach.) And while I've had the wind currents explained to me in science classes and the like, I can't say I actually understand them. Not bone deep.

    1. I'm glad the new location I helping the story so much. {Smile}

      I know low from high tide when I see it, and I can tell if it's particularly low or high... but that's about it. I don't keep track of the times, either. I don't do anything where I'd need to. {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin