Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Joys of Research

The things you can learn.  That fellow to the left?  Tecumseh.  A native American chief (had a more popular brother referred to as "the prophet") who tried uniting the mid western tribes against encroachment by white settlers.  And yes, that is a British uniform he's wearing.  For a reason. 

That's not all - some interesting Shawnee words, some history I didn't know about, and a glimpse into another culture that lived in and around the Ohio valley.

So what's going on, here?  Research.  When you tap into folk lore and romanticized notions of existing people for a novel, you do so at the risk of being made a complete fool through ignorance and preconceptions.  One facet of my work in progress (tentatively named "Tracks") involves a quick look into a somewhat altered history where the British did come to the aid of beleaguered tribes instead of simply offering lip service.  While certainly not the main theme of the novel, even this short visit into the past demanded that I do my homework.  Once, this would've meant many a trip to the library, but in the in age of the internet, Google comes into its own.

So yes, I learned a tiny bit of Shawnee history. Nor did my research stop there, as there were many other scenes demanding at least some modicum of familiarity.  The trick with all of this work is not to make the details central - like any exposition it is a matter of seasoning, not dumping.  Most readers should be able to simply breeze through a scene without having to pause in order to understand it, while more knowledgeable folks might nod (hopefully) and go "Yep.".  Adding just the right touch of factual information to your work is much like detailing a car - very fine lines that enhance and not pull a person away from the main theme.

Credibility is a lot harder for me to achieve with a fantasy than, say, science fiction.  I add just enough truth to anchor the rest of the story - seeds that won't be questioned so that what blooms from them will at least be acceptable to the reader.  I want to keep that movie rolling in the reader's head, and not give them pause to question.  Such a feat demands background work - and a very gentle touch of what I've learned.  Enough to be "authentic" sounding.  The story, and especially the characters, must remain the focus, however.

I also find that creating a first draft from scratch (no help from previous series this time) is no small amount of effort.  The world creating is at one-hundred percent power, and hence the need to build the foundations of a solid background requiring the level of concentration I haven't had to deal with since writing Waiting Weapon.  It's both fun and demanding - little brain left during the week after my day job so my weekends become the time for most of my productive writing.  The end result, however, becomes the launching pad for not only one great story but possibly several.

But research first.

Kerry
www.kmtolan.com

2 comments:

January Bain said...

Got to love the wonderful time of Google for research!

Big Mike said...

Whoo, you're breaking out KT. Thought you always did off world.

Yeah, research is great. I learn a similar tidbit on a novel coming out in Oct. Did you know in the mid part of the 20th century the US Gov paid a fee for people to kill the Banker (wild) horses in the Outer Banks of NC. Floored me.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2011)