Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm talking to a local Writers Group today. Was going to talk about e-publishing (was hoping to have a copy of NETTLEFLOWER to show them, but that's now not going to happen for a few weeks) so I'm talking about Research. You may know that old chestnut of advice -- Write what you know? My talk is going to show the pros and cons of that.

A pro point -- if you know your subject, you're unlikely to make any horrible errors. Con point -- if that's all you know, then your creativity is stifled. I'm an imaginative writer. I also like to get my facts right, because if I don't, I just know someone is going to latch on to the bits that are wrong and I'm going to be Horribly Embarrassed. So where does that leave me...?

Well, writing Fantasy (as I have done) I can invent anything my little heart desires, and it'll be fine, because that's my world and I can do what I like in it (So long as it's consistent).

But if I'm confining myself to the Real World, then certain restrictions kick in. My characters have to follow the physical laws. Gravity. Entropy. All that stuff. In my other favourite -- historicals -- I can't mess with history (or not too much) or it turns into fantasy. So I can't have the Battle of Hastings won by Harold Godwinson, however much I'd like to. I can have him survive the battle, however. The body identified as his, may have been one of his brothers. In my Egyptian-themed contemporary, I have to find a Pharoah who isn't well-known, so I can invent around him.

You're getting my point. I have to say that these are my rules, and no one else has to follow them. Some of the very popular writers don't. No names -- but I can recall one in which the hero is shot in the lag. The musket-ball breaks his thighbone. (This is Napoloenic era, btw) Now, if we are being Realistic, infection would very shortly set in, and if he survived that, then he could still lose the leg. He would not be walking around six weeks later with barely a limp! When I read that I nearly hurled the book across the room.

In another, historical facts were gayly discarded because they didn't fit the plot. Okay, maybe many of the readers didn't spot the errors, but I did, and it spoiled my enjoyment. Catherine of Aragon, from the portraits we have of her, was short and had strawberry-blond hair. But she was Spanish, right? And Spanish ladies are tall with black hair. (My pet beef about the HBO series, The Tudors. Or one of them. Henry was tall, red-headed, and aged like other mortals, for heaven's sakes...)

Which is why I trumpet the benefits of Research. Get the facts right.

But there's a downside. You can get so enthralled by the research that the book may never get written....


Amber Skyze said...

How true. I tend to go overboard when researching and forget I'm writing a book or article! :)

Julia Barrett said...

Yeah, I had a problem with the Tudors. The young Henry was considered very handsome and probably was a strawberry-blond. Catherine of Aragon was definitely very short and she had golden hair and was supposedly cute when she was young. Neither of them aged well - few people did in those days - but by the time Henry met Anne, he was quite a bit older than she was - actually - there are so many scenes in the Tudors that are not factual that I had to stop watching. I agree, in a fantasy you can do whatever you want as long as you remain internally consistent. History is much tougher.

Marianne Stephens said...

Real world...facts need to be right, although I do make up names of places. Research is important. I did a time travel book back to 1965 and had to make sure some stuff was appropriate/accurate.
Anything in the paranormal/fantasy realm, go for everything and anything creative.
I once had a comment from a judge for this time travel book...she couldn't suspend disbelief and gave me a low score.
What? If you're reading paranormal time travel, you HAVE to suspend disbelief, for Pete's sake. This genre is pure fiction, and anything goes!