Monday, June 19, 2006

Not just the facts

Finally back, and the last trip was excellent, a lovely, lovely restful time. I haven't had a chance to devour a book like that in ages. (I'm reading Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness, and I can't believe I didn't read it years ago. This book is good. More when I've finished it.)

So while I was gone I asked about research, and the balance between research and imagination. For historical fiction, you have to decide somewhat early on how deep you're going to go into known facts, and how much you're going to be willing to make up.

I know more than one writer who has, IMO, gone too far over into the research realm. You've seen them too, on writer's boards: the ones who have been writing the same book for 10 years, and still aren't finished, who post questions like "How, exactly, would someone in 18th century England peel an onion? Is it the same way we would, or would there be a special tool? If there was a special tool, I'd like to track one down and get it, so I can feel it in my hands and understand how it was REALLY done..."

Hokay. When I read questions like that I have a very strong urge to post back and say "Make. It. UP. Move on to what your character is thinking and talking about while she's peeling the damn onion! What is she worrying over? What did she see that made her slip and cut her thumb with the knife?"

We're not writing treatises here, folks, or theses. We're trying to tell a STORY.

But then again you can't just make everything up, or you'll completely pull readers out of the story. You need to:

--do your basic research
--do more detailed research on things that matter to the story
--avoid anachronisms at all costs
--capture the flavor of the time, and add some special details that make the reader feel the differences (you will run across these in general and detailed research reading)
--find some good experts to read different parts over, to make sure you didn't make any huge gaffes

And (I hope) that's enough. It's all a balance. In those few moments when I've imagined my audience as the professional medieval scholar, I've scared myself silly, and I can't afford to do that.

On point #2, I absolutely adore interlibrary loan. I just a few minutes ago picked up The Premonstratensian Order in Late Medieval England by Joseph Gribben from my on-campus library, kindly loaned from the University of South Alabama. Isn't that the coolest?

Medieval Word of the Day: ribibe: An opprobrious or abusive term for an old woman.

No comments: