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View Full Version : Can you ever make everybody happy when researching a story?



jsselch
04-26-2013, 08:03 PM
I guess I know the short answer to this: No.

I'm doing a certificate in creative writing (mostly online) with the University of Oxford. On Wednesday I started a new course on Middle English literature, which I am mainly taking because I think it will help me with my fantasy novel. I want to understand the culture and the old ways of writing a little better. For some context, my story is based on Nordic mythology.

Well, my book came up almost immediately and I was so thrilled to find one of my new classmates take a serious interest in what I'm writing. Doesn't this other student - who has studied Norse mythology, Vikings and Icelandic Sagas, etc - for a long, long time, tell me this:

Icelandic Sagas tell us far more about the real lives of real people (plenty of backing from archaeology and contemporary church and diplomatic documents) than the much-translated, transformed and "re-interpreted" Edda. As one of my students has just commented (re Gudrun/Laxdale Saga) - make a good Mills and Boon.

:e2bummed:

So I'm sad now. I didn't even know what Mills and Boon was, and it's not what I'm trying to write (not that there is anything wrong with it!)

I want to know, when do you feel you're finished with your research? I do plan on doing a little more, but I don't want to focus too much on the Icelandic Sagas since they're not part of my story... My focus is one story from the Poetic Edda. What do I do? I don't want to be close-minded, so I'll research the Icelandic Sagas a bit more too, but, but...

I told her my story is a YA fantasy, not a work of historical non-fiction... so while I think archaeology is fascinating, it doesn't really fit with my WIP? :Shrug::flag:

jsselch
04-26-2013, 08:05 PM
In case that last post sounded super whiny... I'm happy about every little snippet of feedback and every suggestion that can make my work better. I'm just sad because this person made an assumption without having read anything from my book. Or any of my other work for that matter.

I'm trying to see the positive and do more research... I really, really don't want half-a**ed, under-researched mythology in this...

Chris P
04-26-2013, 08:16 PM
Kudos for wanting to get it right! People have made entire careers of studying Icelandic sagas. You, however, are writing a book. I suspect you're overthinking things.

As much as I hate the expression "good enough for who it's for," I have to learn when enough is enough. I posted here about the kick of different handguns, since I wanted to know how a character who's never shot one (like me) would react. Since the gun the MC grabs from the bad guy is never identified, I didn't need all the detail people gave me, even though it was interesting in its own right and the input was appreciated. Simply knowing he was not likely to drop the gun regardless of caliber, and that the noise would at least make him flinch and could make him jump at worst was all I needed for the purposes of the story.

Maythe
04-26-2013, 08:21 PM
Even if this person is correct (and I'm pretty sure they are about which shows more of real life) does it matter? It sounds to me like this person took the opportunity to one-up you a bit with their knowledge. If you want to write the Edda story - write it! The Eddas are awesome stories - that's why we know them better than the sagas (which are also awesome in their own way but a damn site harder to read). If you wanted to write a version of Njal's saga then that would be great but if Thor bashing giants, or Loki sneaking about or Frey falling in love are more your thing then don't let anyone else knock you off the course. And Mills and Boon? Fuck no.

Having said that they may have a point in that that the sagas will be a great source for learning the background detail you can put in your story.

jsselch
04-26-2013, 08:26 PM
Kudos for wanting to get it right! People have made entire careers of studying Icelandic sagas. You, however, are writing a book. I suspect you're overthinking things.

As much as I hate the expression "good enough for who it's for," I have to learn when enough is enough. I posted here about the kick of different handguns, since I wanted to know how a character who's never shot one (like me) would react. Since the gun the MC grabs from the bad guy is never identified, I didn't need all the detail people gave me, even though it was interesting in its own right and the input was appreciated. Simply knowing he was not likely to drop the gun regardless of caliber, and that the noise would at least make him flinch and could make him jump at worst was all I needed for the purposes of the story.

Thanks. I know I'm probably overthinking things. I just don't want future readers to think I didn't understand the legends and myths I am basing this on... and much less do I want them to brush the book aside as, 'oh it's for a younger audience, she probably just dabbled in the basics.' (Does that happen? :S)

I like your example of the handgun. I've been taking lessons in swordfighting so I can more accurately portray my battle scenes (single-handed swords are surprisingly heavier than two-handed broadswords!) I've also gone horse riding, because I had no idea how I would describe it based on my previous experience being little fake horseys at carousels...

I think I'm just upset because I thoroughly enjoy my research and this person brushed me off for no reason at all. It's Friday... I'm tired, and yes, probably overthinking things.

Thanks for the encouragement. You're right, sometimes you just have to realize when it's "good enough for who it's for."

jsselch
04-26-2013, 08:39 PM
And Mills and Boon? Fuck no.

Having said that they may have a point in that that the sagas will be a great source for learning the background detail you can put in your story.

I was trying to be diplomatic, but yea. :rolleyes:

Thanks. I will study the sagas a bit more for background detail. I did like that suggestion, I just didn't like how it was phrased. I'm being a bit of a baby about this, really.

So the general consensus is research is done when you feel it's done, and ignore people who try to one-up you with knowledge they feel would be better in your book?

Maythe
04-26-2013, 08:50 PM
It's your book. If this person thinks there ought to be a story based on one of the sagas they can write it themselves.

Lyra Jean
04-26-2013, 09:06 PM
You can always add an author's note. I've seen author's do this for straight historicals and historical fantasies.

i.e. Little Sister is a Japanese historical fantasy where basically all the gods and demons are real and do exist. In the historical note she writes how people back then really did believe this and how superstitions played in their lives.

I've seen other author notes where they put in little details they found during research that because it wasn't really relevant to the story didn't make into the book. But found it so fascinating they wanted their readers to know about it.

Hendo
04-26-2013, 10:46 PM
You're always going to find people who "specialize" in whatever you're writing about. Ignore them unless they're giving feedback that you want. Otherwise (from my experience at least) they're generally(but not always) going to want to pick holes in what you do because "they know it better". Just remember that it's your story and not theirs.

Siri Kirpal
04-26-2013, 11:45 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

You will always find conflicting stories, evidence, information. Use what's useful; slough off what isn't.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

benbenberi
04-27-2013, 12:17 AM
What Maythe said. A criticism of a work that basically says, This story is A but I prefer B so your story's no good is fundamentally not a valid criticism. There's absolutely nothing wrong with basing a story on the Eddas.

(And in fact, for a myth-based story, the sagas are really not a good source for anything except culture, because they are mostly pretty mundane historically-based narratives, not fantastical or mythological at all.)

Not to mention, one of the joys of writing fantasy is that, after you've researched the heck out of your topic, you get to pick and choose the bits you want to use, and change the rest to what suits you.

Sounds to me like you're already on the right track, & there's nothing here to worry about.

Weirdmage
04-27-2013, 09:13 AM
Hello, jsselch.

I'm Norwegian, so I have read quite a bit of both Sagas and Norse mythology. I'm not an expert, but I think I can offer you some assistance.

Whatever research you want to do, you'll find books available for free on Amazon, search for "edda" and "snorri sturluson". If you are placing your story among the upper reaches of society, I'd recommend "Heimskringla, or the Chronicle of the Kings of Norway". It's pretty long, but it should be easy to skim to get to anything that's relevant for you.

When it comes to the mythology, there's really only one rule: Be respectful. -Personally I'm not that bothered about what people do, but there's lots of people who feel protective about "their" mythology, so try to avoid altering things in a way that can be seen as "stomping on people's heritage". (Not that I think you'd do that, I doubt you'd be here asking questions if you were going to do that.)
-Also a general heads-up to anyone looking at Voluspá, you'll find many of the names of the dwarfs from the Hobbit, and the name Gandalf, there (verse 10-15 (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe03.htm), "Eikinskjaldi" in verse 13 means "Oakenshield").

I'm interested in history and archaeology, and being Norwegian I've read quite a lot about the Vikings. So if you want any help on anything specific there, you can PM me. I may have what you need, or I can help point you in the right direction. :)

ULTRAGOTHA
04-28-2013, 06:40 PM
Yeah, those writers who use the Eddas in their stories are no good, as anyone who ever read Tolkien would know.


:sarcasm

Russell Secord
04-28-2013, 11:42 PM
The trouble with experts is that they know too much. Some of us write fiction. We're more interested in a good story than in scholarship. When we allude to real things, yes, we want to get our facts straight, but when we make stuff up, we're editing reality. There's no true originality, but if you put together two things that haven't been put together before, you can get insights into both of them.

Write your story. Don't listen to the experts.

rosehips
04-29-2013, 01:41 AM
jsselch,

I've studied history at the graduate level and if I let myself, I would become completely bogged down with research trying to get it all accurate, etc., when writing my fiction. My solution has been to draw a really distinct line between writing fiction and writing nonfiction. Give yourself permission to write what the story calls for, even if it deviates from the historical sources. If someone out there wants precise historical accuracy, they have no business looking for it in a work of fiction anyway. They should find some good nonfiction books on whatever the topic is, instead. Novels are for entertainment, enlightenment, feeling something, enjoying a made-up world, and made-up people, not for historical accuracy.

Most of the time novels that are praised for their historical accuracy aren't all that accurate anyway. And really that's fine. They shouldn't have to be accurate to be good--they should be well-plotted, etc. instead.

jsselch
04-29-2013, 09:34 PM
Thanks for all your encouragement, everybody! I didn't expect much, considering I was basically just ranting about this random person's... feedback (was it even feedback?) Much appreciated! :)

I learned a few things from this thread, and from what the person said to me.
1) I'll stop the research when I'm comfortable, and will definitely include a short preface explaining what exactly I read to prepare for the story (thanks for that great tip, Lyra Jean!)
2) I got to "defend" my book for the first time, and it made me realize how far along I really am and that it really is a YA story (I was on the fence about that for a looong time.)

Now, I can't quote everybody, but...


Give yourself permission to write what the story calls for, even if it deviates from the historical sources. If someone out there wants precise historical accuracy, they have no business looking for it in a work of fiction anyway.
Good point, but I just want to make sure I don't "trample on somebody's heritage" as Weirdmage said. I like the way he put that. :D Really though, this is something that worries me...


When it comes to the mythology, there's really only one rule: Be respectful. -Personally I'm not that bothered about what people do, but there's lots of people who feel protective about "their" mythology, so try to avoid altering things in a way that can be seen as "stomping on people's heritage". (Not that I think you'd do that, I doubt you'd be here asking questions if you were going to do that.)
I'm interested in history and archaeology, and being Norwegian I've read quite a lot about the Vikings. So if you want any help on anything specific there, you can PM me. I may have what you need, or I can help point you in the right direction. :)
Your post made me so happy, because I've actually read bits of the Heimskringla sagas, and have a version of Snorri Sturluson's Edda. It's in German because I got it from my grandma, and it's huge and difficult so I haven't read all of it, but I'm getting there!

I'll take you up on your offer and PM you with questions in the near future. Thanks so much for that! You've hit the nail on the head with your comment about being respectful - that's really what I'm most worried about. I've interpreted certain characters in my own way (Ratatoskr, for one, is rather paranoid and fidgety in my story, and I've given the crows Huginn and Muninn a comedic twist.)

Beneath all that I want the real myths to shine through though... Since it's a YA book, I'd really love it if anyone who read it actually felt inspired to read more about these beautiful cultures, their mythology and history... but I dream. :o


Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

You will always find conflicting stories, evidence, information. Use what's useful; slough off what isn't.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
Lastly, thanks Siri Kirpal! What a beautiful greeting, I just had to comment on it. :)

Sorry for the super long post, everyone...

jsselch
04-29-2013, 09:37 PM
By the way, if anyone is writing about a similar subject and would like to exchange research material, I'd be happy to help too! You're all so kind to offer me help, I'd love to return the favour, if I can. I have a lot of random books on mythology (not just Norse) and one particularly neat book on fable creatures. :)