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rekirts
07-18-2006, 07:18 PM
When I was working on an historical novel set in Roman Britain, I kept running into the same problem. I'd want to know some little detail for a particular scene and I'd stop writing and spend hours trying to track it down. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not, but it really took away from my writing time. A few times, after going to all the work and finding the information, I ended up cutting the scene anyway.

Has anyone else had this problem of getting derailed by some detail that you could probably gloss over until revision time? I don't really think it was procrastination so much as an obsessive/compulsive/perfectionist I-can't-go-on-until-I-get-this-right sort of thing.

BTW, I never completed the aforementioned novel, but it is merely comatose, not dead. The main character is alive and well and living in my head.

rekirts
07-18-2006, 07:41 PM
I now have 50+ books, a half dozen three ring binders filled with stuff I downloaded from the internet, and files and files of stuff that are still on three different hard drives. Oh, I identify with that. I have a bookself full of books about Rome, the Roman army, daily life in Rome, Roman Britain, Celtic Britain, Hadrian's Wall and all kinds of stuff, specific and general. Also I have a couple of binders full of stuff from the internet.

I do love my books. Some of them are special ordered from Britain and cost an arm and a leg. :D

rekirts
07-18-2006, 07:58 PM
I studied Latin in high school, but that was a very long time ago and I've forgotten most of it. I remember translating passages from Caesar's Gallic Wars from English to Latin and Latin to English. I sure couldn't do that now. I use the Latin forms for place names such as Londinium and Eboracum, but I don't use Latin phrases, or at least I haven't yet.

Laurie
07-18-2006, 08:45 PM
Oh, yeah I do this all the time. I've got to force myself to just write and highlight the details that need looked up later. Otherwise, I never get anywhere. Which is where I am at with one WIP. So much so I shelved it and started another. Which is what I did with the previous WIP. Hmm.. two in a row. Is that a pattern?

newmod
07-18-2006, 10:53 PM
Yep sympathise totally. I hate it when I see movies or read books and they donīt get basic stuff correct, whether through lack of knowledge/interest or īcos it works better for the plot.

I find I often get hung up on those little everyday details and maybe I should try to make that a correction phase activity. Like Laurie I sometime put markers for things to check.

I find sometimes I also use it as an excuse to not write which obviously is not good.

Puma
07-19-2006, 12:57 AM
I usually look for things I'll need before I write the section (and then very often still flag it during the first read through for a double check or more in depth). I'll have to say though that my historical WIP has been kinder to me on the research side than the science fiction I'm working on now. Puma

arrowqueen
07-19-2006, 02:18 AM
I once spent an entire morning trying to research the Subura in ancient Rome and wondering why I kept getting car sites.

Shame I'd typed in Subaru by mistake.

TheIT
07-19-2006, 02:36 AM
I'm working on a fantasy set in a feudal society. A year or so ago I got completely derailed on research once I realized I needed to know a lot more about feudalism just to continue. It was a very useful and enjoyable time, but I wrote maybe three sentences of actual prose. Since then I think I'm back on track.

When I'm in the flow of writing, I try not to let the details stop me. Whenever I hit something I'm not sure about I'll make an arbitrary decision and surround the section with <angle brackets> as a reminder to come back later and fix it. For me, stopping to correct the details easily becomes another form of waxing the cat.

pdr
07-19-2006, 03:47 AM
I love research. It's the best excuse for not writing!

I usually do practical research as well and travel to the places I'm working on, try the crafts I mention and maybe have a day without modern comforts to get the feeling of life without electricity. I do cook original recipes too.

I pin copies of old maps to the wall along with sketches of clothes and copies of paintings of people and street scenes from the time.

I have photocopies of old newspapers pinned up to show the adverts and entertainments.

I have files of ordinary people's printed-out diaries from the correct dates.

I have nearly 4000 reference books, many old ones or copies of old ones from the times I write about plus the latest in academic thought on the historical periods I enjoy.

My idea of heaven would be to live in my own home with all my books and research stuff around me so that writing wouldn't get derailed for an hour whilst I check that the Flying Scotsman was doing the London to Edinburgh run in 1888. (It wasn't!)

I do try to get everything I need read and noted first but little things will creep in. I sympathise with Arrowqueen. My spelling is erratic too and our stupid computers never understand the way a librarian does!

Laurie
07-19-2006, 02:00 PM
pdr research paradise!

I stopped writing one book because it needed to be set in several European countries that I had never seen. I just couldn't get enough 'feel' without having been those places. Anyone have that problem?

I too tape up copies of photos, get maps, regional cookbooks..

I get stuck on names. I want to make sure I'm using names that would have been found in that area in that time. I can waste an entire day wading through census material....

henriette
07-19-2006, 08:16 PM
i'm stuck on researching dueling. it is a fascinating subject and very complex. just reading "the code duello" and coming to an understanding of the rules has taken me days upon days. but i think it will serve the duel scene i intend to eventually write (argh) well in the end.

stumpfoot
07-21-2006, 03:26 PM
i'm stuck on researching dueling. it is a fascinating subject and very complex. just reading "the code duello" and coming to an understanding of the rules has taken me days upon days. but i think it will serve the duel scene i intend to eventually write (argh) well in the end.

Try 'The Duel, A History' By Robert Baldick. A good one volume history of duels and dueling.

Lyra Jean
07-21-2006, 07:24 PM
I'm writing a historical fantasy. I'm already into chapter two which is an accomplishment for me. Although I'm in the middle of moving so...it's not going so well right now.

My WIP takes place in New England 1895-1905. I'm pretty much making it up and will do the research later. Although I have looked into some of the fantasy parts like ocean mythology. I know I will need to do a lot of research to fix the details about the historical aspect but I just want to get the writing done first.

newmod
07-21-2006, 09:20 PM
Maybe it would be more appropriate to have a thread "When writing hijacks research" :D

batgirl
07-21-2006, 11:50 PM
My motto on another board is 'would rather research than actually write the thing'. I love this quote from an interview with Susanna Clarke:


''One way of grounding the magic is by putting in lots of stuff about street lamps, carriages and how difficult it is to get good servants.'' So her apartment is challenged by bookcases full of soldiers' accounts of Waterloo, the social anthropology of George Ewart Evans and dozens of slim books on such subjects as styles of visiting cards and mausoleums.
''I love books about very small things,'' she said. When a certain character draws a knife from a well-laid table near the end of the novel and holds it to a man's throat, ''I had to restrain myself from buying a book on 19th-century fruit knives.''



Reading that, I looked at the book on Georgian tableware sitting beside my own computer and thought "I'm not mad. I'm just researching."
-Barbara

henriette
07-22-2006, 01:16 AM
thanks stumpfoot. much obliged!

JenNipps
07-26-2006, 05:38 PM
Speaking of research ....

(Man, I need to come back later and completely re-read this thread with my whole attention.)

On my way to check in here this morning, I saw a discussion title relating to research (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=36470) on the Writing Novels board.

HoosierCowgirl
07-30-2006, 01:02 AM
I'm trying to parlay the "Must Do Research" angle into some family trips to museums, historical sites and best of all ... some caves. Fortunately I passed my geek genes on to my kids and they like museums, too :)

BardSkye
07-30-2006, 03:47 AM
How do you feel about perpetual motion machines? I visited a museum in New England (don't remember if it was Vermont or New Hampshire) that had a Rube Goldbergesque perpetual motion machine made of the most unlikely things. Spent the entire time in front of that one exhibit.

Jack_Roberts
09-21-2006, 06:07 AM
I agree with all those who write what they can, red flag notes for later, and move on to get the general story finished. I need to look up late 1600 sailing but the story wants to just flow out. I might skip that chapter and move on, returning later when I need to write it.

Willowmound
09-23-2006, 04:02 PM
A good way to research ships, is to go on one. Actually, I'd say it's compulsory. I once read a fantasy novel partly set on a sailing ship, where it was blatantly obvious that the writer had never been on one. He was describing being on this ship very much as one would describe lying on a beach -- which is what I'm pretty sure he was doing.

Tip: Ships are windy places. Very often quite cold, even in summer. And the crew of a ship does not spend the voyage lying around sunning themselves! I almost kicked that book into a corner.

Gabriele
10-03-2006, 10:07 PM
Oh, I identify with that. I have a bookself full of books about Rome, the Roman army, daily life in Rome, Roman Britain, Celtic Britain, Hadrian's Wall and all kinds of stuff, specific and general. Also I have a couple of binders full of stuff from the internet.

I do love my books. Some of them are special ordered from Britain and cost an arm and a leg. :D

Are we writing the same books? Except for the internet stuff which I use very sparingly, that sounds like my bookshelves. :D

army_grunt13
10-08-2006, 04:50 AM
Ah, at last another Roman historical fiction author! Good Lord, I see what you and Gabriele have written, and I wonder the same thing! Hey, as long as you guys aren't writing about the actual Roman Invasion in A.D. 43, we're good (I intend to use that as the plot for my final "Soldier of Rome" book). Can I stake my claim to that one now??

To answer your question, I am going through the exact same problem with my second Roman historical novel. In fact, I just started a new thread on that very thing. The problem I see is that we are dealing with sources that are 2,000 years old, and not always first-hand accounts. Also, you will see that some sources contradict each other, so which one do you believe? I see this most when reading about the Emperor Tiberius (who in my opinion got an unjustified bad rap from a number of historians). In the end, I always go with which source is PROBABLY the most likely to have it right. What else can you do?

In my stories, I take an event that I would actually like to read about, and insert my cast of characters into the story. I have actually changed events in my stories, because later on I found that I had my historical facts wrong. Where no hard source is available, all we can do is write our interpretation of how things COULD have happened.

rekirts
10-10-2006, 07:37 PM
In the end, I always go with which source is PROBABLY the most likely to have it right. What else can you do?I go with the one that fits my plot the best. :D

ATP
10-10-2006, 08:17 PM
Although the thread title is open-ended in terms of application, it is most certainly understood to refer to the writing of novels. However, perhaps surprisingly, and then again, maybe not, the same problem can arise for those who are feature article writers, in the realm of non-fiction.

These are usually research intensive, but, obviously, are of a much smaller length, and have a much shorter deadline. It is possible to do too much research, but one can also undertake 'just enough' research to acquaint oneself with the relevant details and background, so as to be able to write the piece 'meaningfully', or 'covering the bases'. The balance between too much and too little can be hard to maintain at times.

Gabriele
10-11-2006, 03:04 AM
Ah, at last another Roman historical fiction author! Good Lord, I see what you and Gabriele have written, and I wonder the same thing! Hey, as long as you guys aren't writing about the actual Roman Invasion in A.D. 43, we're good (I intend to use that as the plot for my final "Soldier of Rome" book). Can I stake my claim to that one now??

Hey, you filched my Germanicus/Arminius idea. We hatesss sneaky thievesss, yessss. :e2bummed:

:D

davidthompson
10-16-2006, 06:46 PM
I'm as vulnerable to going off on research tangents as the next person, but for us 19th century folks at least, the internet is a godsend. I've been researching longer than I've been trying to write fiction, so I remember the bad old days, when it was all three-ring binders, handwritten notes, and trips to the library. :)

Yesterday, in rewriting, I decided I needed to slow down the pace at one point, to build suspense, when my characters were waiting in the evening for something to happen. I decided that the son would be reading aloud to the family while the daughter sewed, and I wanted to say what book he was reading.

First step, Google bestsellers 1856. Find a site with a modern list.

Second step, pick one, and search Making of America for a few period references to make sure the modern list was accurate.

Third step, search to get some more info on the book's content, to make sure the subject matter was what my family would choose. Oh my gosh, the whole text is online!

Fourth step, call up the text, skim the table of contents, find a section that my MC could be reading, that fits the mood of that chapter and helps reveal his character. Turns out there's a dandy paragraph about a Roman soldier saving a woman, that parallels what's going on in my MC's real life. Though he doesn't want to admit to himself his true feelings about what's happening in his life, he can read that paragraph and react to it, and reveal his character to the reader.

Fifth step, cut and paste the paragraph into my book, as a quote, and write his reaction.

Better than I ever hoped! And it took all of twenty minutes. I love the internet.

army_grunt13
10-17-2006, 03:18 PM
The internet is indeed a wonderful tool for conducting research. I actually found the entire Annals of Tacitus online, so I didn't have to buy a copy from somewhere. One question though, if you do use direct quotations from a literary source, don't you have to site them in a bibliography? In your case, I'm assuming it's good enough that you mention them actually reading the book, which would count as citing the source. For me there are several occasions in my book where I knew I wanted either Germanicus, Arminius, or the Emperor Tiberius to make some type of rousing speech. Sure enough, I found sources with their actual speeches in them during these occasions, so I did a simple copy and paste. However, I did site my sources to cover my backside, because the last thing I want is to get nailed for plagiarism. I just saw no need to rewrite their actual speeches when I found copies of them. So does anyone know exactly how stuff like this works when dealing with text that is 2,000 years old? Thanks!

davidthompson
10-17-2006, 07:37 PM
One question though, if you do use direct quotations from a literary source, don't you have to site them in a bibliography?

Well, here's my understanding of it.

Legally, to avoid copyright issues, a citation is unimportant. If the work is under copyright and you don't have permission or fair use, then giving a full citation won't make it legal.

By convention, in a scholarly nonfiction work, citations are expected so other readers can form opinions about the quality of your research, delve further into a particular topic, etc.

By convention, in a work of fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter), it's considered plagiarism to claim another's work as your own. If you do it, and get discovered, your name is mud. But if the work being plagiarized isn't copyrighted, there's no legal restriction.

In my particular case, of course, copyright had long expired. The same would be true for an older translation of a 2,000-year-old speech, but newer translations might still be under copyright, and then you're dealing with "fair use" issues, which I don't know anything about in fiction, only nonfiction.

I my case, the paragraph was presented as a quote from a published book and not my own words, so there'd be no illusion of plagiarism. I happened to mention the title, because it came naturally in the narrative, but I didn't mention the author, publisher, publication date, etc., because my novel isn't the kind of scholarly work where that kind of back-up data is needed.

Some novels, like Michael Crichton's, do use footnotes and bibliographies, to give more visible emphasis to the gritty details of the background. Just a different approach.

I'd say that most people wouldn't consider it plagiarism if you had historic characters give historic speeches, with or without citations. Part of the fun of historical novels is expecting that kind of accuracy when fictional characters blend with historical characters, and the more well-known the speech, the sillier it would seem to rewrite it, if you needed to include the actual words rather than a summary. Having Lincoln speak a rewritten version of the Gettysburg address, for example, would just be wrong. :)

On the other hand, part of the fun is when the reader realizes that he or she is reading the actual words the main character would have heard at that time and place, and a citation would make that absolutely clear, if there's any doubt.

Anyway, that's my two cents. There also may be other typical conventions for historic fiction set in much earlier time periods, that I'm not aware of.

Puma
10-18-2006, 04:32 AM
Another two cents - I think citing the original work would be better (as in, speech given by Tacitus to ... or at or ...). Whatever source you found it in has also cobbed his (Tacitus) original work. And, in the context of a historical novel, I think you could probably work the credits in without using footnotes or a bibliography. Puma

army_grunt13
10-18-2006, 05:36 AM
Thanks for the input, guys! I went ahead and marked each actual text from Tacitus with a superscript numeral, and then posted in the bibliography exactly what it was that I used. Some things I modified slightly, such as the summary of Tiberius' campaigns in Germania I modified to be written in the first person. I used that for a letter that Tiberius sends to Germanicus, explaining his reasons as to why he was calling a halt to the campaigns. Whether it was necessary or not, I think doing it the way I did served two purposes. 1) It leaves no doubts regarding plagiarism, as I am siting the sources every time I direct quote something. 2) People see that and it adds validity and believibility to my story. Though I had to take some literary license in places, I pride myself on that I kept things as historically pure as possible. This was difficult, given the sheer age of the sources, plus some sources conflict with each other.

You can go to several different websites or encyclopedias and find entirely different accounts of the Battle of Idistaviso, which culminated Germanicus' campaign. Unfortunately, you are not going to find a source that isn't slanted. Many are obviously "pro-Arminius," as they dismiss the battle as indecisive, with both sides suffering heavy losses. And of course they say that the ONLY reason Germanicus wasn't destroyed is because Arminius' uncle attacked too soon. "Pro-Roman" sources, on the other hand, state that Roman losses were incredibly light, and that the German losses were devastating. Also, the pro-Arminius sources make no mention of the siege at the Angrivarri stronghold that followed the battle. It is detailed in Tacitus, so I included it in my story.