Thursday, July 24, 2008

Research Is Fun Again

For years, I've been writing historical fiction and loving it. I even enjoy the research end. I've learned some of the coolest things along the way, most of which will never make it into any book, but that's okay, because I love to learn.

At times, however, historical research can be frustrating, such as when you can't find a detail you need and have to rewrite a scene so you don't need that detail anymore. Or when the facts you need are so specific that even though you do your homework, you still mess it up and need an expert to clean up the mess.

One big issue with historical writing is that any time someone moves from one place to another and they aren't on foot, there's a very good chance that an animal is involved, whether your characters are riding on a horse, in a wagon, or whatever.

Problem: I don't know animals.

I don't even particularly like them, unless they meow and curl up at my feet. I took horseback riding lessons as a kid, but it didn't cure me; I'm still terrified of horses. Last winter, I wanted to scream and bang my head against a wall because of all my book's horse issues.

To be honest, I'm a little scared to start the editing process on Tower of Strength (which should begin soon), because the horse stuff was so traumatizing.

But my current work in progress is totally different than anything I've written in years. For starters, it's a contemporary novel.

That means, yep, it's happening in today's world. Where there are cars. And cell phones. And jeans. And microwaves. And DVDs and TiVos. And computers.

I cannot tell you what a breath of fresh air it has been to write a scene without having to double-check my OED for whether a certain word was really in the vernacular in 1875. Or to have a character put the key into the ignition and start her car . . . then drive hundreds of miles within hours. To have characters use cell phones. Sing along to a CD. Instant message on the computer.

Yes! I can use technology!

Instead of learning about historical events, locales, food, clothing design, colloquial expressions, and so on, my research thus far has included picking friends' brains left and right.

Instead of looking up what plays might have been performed in the Salt Lake City Theater in the mid-1860s, I go to IMDB to check how many seasons Lost has been on the air.

I don't worry about visiting the locales and taking notes, because I can come up with where each scene is set, and they can be anywhere I've already been. I'm even using houses and restaurants I'm familiar with.

When I put hairstyles and clothing on my characters, I know with certainty that I'm not off by ten years on fashion trends.

It's a pure delight!

I'll likely delve into historical writing again at some point, because I truly love writing in that genre. But man, after immersing myself into the past for four novels and at least that many years, I'm having a ball with something just a bit different.


Unknown said...

what a delight. awesome that you are getting to dabble in a change.

:) kathleen

Alison Wonderland said...

Oh how jealous I am. One day I'd really really love to write historical but I just don't have time to do the research now. Maybe when the fact that I'm the next Stephanie Meyer gets out and I can write full time. *sigh*

But yes, I can see what you're saying. There are so many generes that it's fun and exciting to dip into a new one after having been swimming somewhere else for so long.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Wow, what a crazy but happy adjustment this must be for you!

Jami said...

Horse-free writing. Congratulations. [BTW, One of my best friends is a farrier so I could probably get you a shoe if you need one. :)]

I think modern might be harder for me. I've recently realized that I am middle-aged and my brain's pop culture is very 80s. I'll have to take an immersion class in "now" at some point.

Heffalump said...

One of the wonderful things about writing is the broad range you can choose from.
I'm looking forward to updates on your progress.


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