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Friday, March 27, 2015

Research, it's what's for lunch! Tales of what it isn't by That Wandering Gal, Cerise.

Research is always that little, idly-bitty project you do that becomes The Thing That Would Not Die...or (as hubby calls it), the Hanging of the Draperies, or The Tidbit That Makes Your Readers Love You.

The Thing TWND is the challenge that many novice writers face when they have researched their topic until the end of time and logic.  When you know absolutely nothing about what you wish to write, The Thing comes out to play. He can then inhale you like The Alien he is, and keep you absorbed in a subject way beyond his usefulness or place in the play.

And as that famous Elizabethan once said, the play's the thing. Really....it is.

I've been known to work in company with The Thing. This is especially possible with the ease of access to the internet. Pinterest, Wikis and Word Tracers, maps and historical sites of all kinds beckon and beguile. A girl could develop a cold.

Capturing all that good stuff (or so you think in the moment) becomes yards of bookmarks on your computer screen, lots of notes and pretty pix. Oh, God. What a mess. I have to constantly warn myself, "Five minute warning! Dive! Dive! Or you disintegrate." Actually, what happens is I forget why I went in the first place. Sigh. Lost in minutiae.

The Thing TWND gives you far far more than you should ever want. For this book. And lures you like fine champagne to the basis for another novel. (Dear god, let me finish this one!) He tells you how to dress for breakfast in 1820 as opposed to 1810, what climate was like in 1868 or how the crops grew. (Do I need this? Hmm. Well, yes, actually. Might provide that smidgen of verisimilitude, you know.) He tells how to kill people without a trace. How many fought at the Battle of Waterloo, and only an estimate, sadly, of how many died both civilian and military in La Grande Guerre.

Ultimately The Thing must be wrestled to the ground (or you escape him because the dog has not peed since dawn or hubby needs his dinner—and you, by George, need a damn drink!) The Thing is what you learn to do to find specific information. You read like a undergraduate fool for love about your general subject matter and then you go find the specifics.

Specifics may include:

  • an interview of an expert. (Do visit him so you can leave when you want. Do not take a friend with a similar project. Do take a tape recorder and notes. Do list him in your Acknowledgements.)
  • a visit to the library. (Do take coins in case you have to make photocopies. Do not copy the Encyclopedia. Reserve the books you need ahead of your visit.)
  • a visit to a specialist museum. (Do work with the subject matter librarian or archivist. Do tell him what you want and why. Be specific. Saves him time and you heartache. Take your camera.)
  • visit to the country or locale where you have set your novel. (Do research before going. Plan day trips which are less expensive than formal tours. Talk to the museum directors, etc. even if by email before hand. And yes, do ENJOY every minute of this one! Take Significant Other, too.)
Gargoyles of the Basilica of Saint Denis
in Paris where all the kings and queens of France
are buried!
Afterward the temptation to Hang the Draperies may afflict you. This is a disease. Treat it as such. This comes upon you when you are so marvelously imbued with delights about your infusion of Knowledge that you are certain no one else knows and, by Jove, they should. 

You become a missionary, a barn-burner, in short, a royal pain. This condition occurs in the virulent onset of the disease. Fortunately as you recognize that your various audiences are Bored To Tears, you back off. (Or they no longer do lunch with you, talk on phone, invite you to speak to their group.)

But you are still so tempted to write all that stuff into your novel that your tight little 50K mystery becomes the War and Peace of the Kill-Em genre. How to cut the Draperies? A fine editor will quickly tell you if you are pumping her full of extraneous junk.  Hire one. For your genre. Hire her by  mid-book if you suspect you are hanging too many draperies per chapter. It will be the best money you ever spent.

Finally, after years of OD-ing on all these delightful yummy kernels of truth, you realize that to use all you know, realistically, might never occur. Or needs to. That the little tickle that readers get from your books may often have to do with one bright pop of fact. One solid hunk of meat that you threw them in the midst of building character, tension, plot twist or viable denouement!
Gare de L'est famous window
This train station (where trains leave for the east) is where
American troops in WWI left for the front lines.

So here with my pix of my most recent Paris trip, I give you a few kernels from some of my travels (which I lovingly call research, baby, for the IRS, too, donchaknow.)

Here's one for you: The town of Varennes in eastern France is a peaceful place where American Doughboys walked through on their way to the Argonne. They passed the church where Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette and their two children had fled for sanctuary against the Terror. The townspeople discovered them there, told the revolutionaries who came and carted them back to Paris. There they killed all of them. A plaque stands there to commemorate the sad event. We ate across the street and those there were thrilled to have Americans who took the time and energy to visit and learn about their town.


The crossroads in Varennes where nearby lie more than 17,000 American
Doughboys and American nurses who served in the First World War.







4 comments:

Tina Donahue said...

Wow, you nailed it, Cerise. Happens to me all the time. I try to keep info to a minimum in the story - the important thing is the story after all. Doing computer hacking research for Intimate Details damn near killed me. I know zip about programming/hacking - frankly, the research was as riveting as reading a washing machine manual. However, I was able to find a couple of very interesting facts that I put into my story to give it authenticity and flavor. :)

jean hart stewart said...

Simply great column....It's so easy to get lot in minutiae your editor probably will throw out. Thanks for all the wonderful facts and picture...

Cerise DeLand said...

Tina, Thank you and wow, am I glad you liked what I said. Trying to keep a very serious "disease" light is a CHALLENGE!
LOL!

Cerise DeLand said...

Jean, I am delighted you saw some "truths" in my column. Obsessed with verisimilitude as I am, I am always happy to meet another fellow traveler!!!
xxx