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Monday, May 14, 2012

What to Leave Out


Sometimes I have to force myself to put away the books I call my "research" and begin writing the novel I have in mind. I recently read a survey of what readers DON'T want to see in an historical novel: gratuitous sex, too much detail, and hard-to-read dialogue, like Scottish brogue and such. Still, when crafting historical novels, a writer must first feel grounded in the period, and confidant with the setting and what the characters wear, eat, see, and how they live. That’s a tall order, and takes a lot of time, and then we must leave out most of what we learned so as not to bury the plot in a burdensome data-dump.
     Before writing The Tapestry Shop, I visited museums in France, where I found artifacts that enriched my novel, set in the thirteenth century. In a museum I saw some of the tools they used in the Middle Ages, as well as everyday items like a lady’s comb. What fascinated me about the comb was that the upper part, where the teeth were attached, was made of tin. This was their mirror. This same comb plays a part in my novel, when Catherine sees her mother’s face in the tin reflection. 
     While writing my Ebook about Julia Augustii (written under pen name Elizabeth Elson), I got out some photos I'd taken in the Roman Forum, because Julia's life and her affair with Marc Anthony's son took place in that vicinity. You can actually see parts of her stepmother's house a few steps from the Forum.
     Fine, you say. But I can’t make it to London to research my Regency! Not to worry. You can browse parts of the Smithsonian, even online. I keep a list of online sites, set down as to category and time period. When I’m in a hurry, I just throw them in my Favorites folder and sort them later. And now, with Google Earth, you can type in a geographical location followed by the word "library" (not in quotes) and get their contact information. There is even a handy translator at the top, in case you can't read the language. You can "Ask a Librarian" in most countries, just like you can here, and get back an answer.
     Aside from the internet, SCA events, like reenactments, are great places to see what life was really like before modern times. Best of all, keep reading books written by authors who write in your time period. Chances are they have done their homework, and can save you a lot of time, but it never hurts to double-check the facts before sending your book out into the world.

3 comments:

Mary Fremont Schoenecker said...

You list some good resources for those who can not travel to foreign lands for research. Fortunately, for me, my settings for historical novels are early American.

BDTharp said...

Researching can be a lot of fun, but you do have to eventually go back to the blank page. Thanks for the post, good information for authors.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Joyce,

Your research suggestions are wonderfully helpful and make good sense. Thanks for posting this information!