This post is by Nancy Jardine
You’ll soon get the message that I’m a bit preoccupied just now, and because of that I’m posting about an old topic.
A very strange saying was drilled into me at school and it has never left me. “Excel in the 3 Rs – Reading, (w)Riting, and (a)Rithmetic- and you’ll never go wrong.” All of that’s very basic, for sure, even if extremely contrived, but I now have another set of Rs that have been plaguing me recently. My Rs (no laughing please…) are Read, Research, Record and (w)Rite. Just like any other author. Sneak in a little (a)Rithmetic too, since all my historical dates have been a major pain in the butt!!
Read: I’ve been doing a huge amount of reading for months but very little of that has been reading fiction for pleasure. Most of it has been purposeful fact collecting…and I’ve found out heaps. Far too much, of course, and I can’t use it all in my current novel. But I’ve used a lot of it on blogs… so that good! And some of it might be good for future writing- even better! I’m a sad person, really, because an extra new fact can send me into rapturous smiles- especially something I didn’t really understand before about the historical period, or an explanation that makes a whole lot of sense of other information. I just plain love doing research!
Research: Therein lies the culprit!
‘Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Wernher von Braun (father of Rocket Science, space architect, aerospace engineer) http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/wernhervon107615.html
I’m going to frame that quote and put it above my desk because that seems to be exactly what I’ve been like recently.
‘I think the worst and most insidious procrastination for me is research. I will be looking for some bit of fact or figure to include in the novel, and before I know, I’ve wasted an entire morning delving into that subject matter without a word written.’ James Rollin (action adventure/ fantasy novelist) http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jamesrolli461933.html
Oops! That seems to fit me so well, too. Could that explain why my latest historical Celtic/ Roman Britain novel is still at the ‘almost’ finished stage even though it’s sitting at 120 thousand words? And also why my hard disc is being used up at an amazing rate with the storage of potentially useful images?
(image from http://www.123rf.com)
‘I like reading history, and actually most authors enjoy the research part because it is, after all, easier than writing.’ Ken Follet (author of Pillars of the Earth and other works) http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/k/kenfollet507902.html
Well, that’s it in a nutshell! Isn’t it funny how research is easier than writing? I started off with a solid researching phase because I just don’t carry around a lot of Roman Britain of AD 70s and 80s facts in my head. I made my outline plan which involved some detailed paying attention to dates since I’m trying to be as historically accurate as I can. My plan covered three printed pages (font size 12 ). It looked fantastic so I delved in to get that (w)Rite phase going. But guess what happened pretty quickly? I did some more research because some things didn’t fit the time line very well. Why was that since I’d been quite careful and thorough in creating my plan? I tweaked and rewrote. Rewrote again, but something still didn’t match up about the historical timescale .
Well, hey! I said to myself I’m writing a novel I can make up what I want, so I did.
But you know history is such a marvellous concept that it’s being rewritten as I write. You may have heard of all the lovely discoveries – like the body of an English king having been excavated from under a car park – all of which changes the playing field of what was thought to be historically accurate.
History was definitely playing tricks on me because recent archaeological evidence over the past couple of years has been shifting the dates of Roman occupation of northern Britain just a little bit.
Instead of relying mainly on the writings of Tacitus, a ‘biased’ Roman historian who lived after the time of AD 84, and on the writings of more recent historians (mainly 1970s and 1980s) whose ‘concept’ of history I was using, we can now add findings from new archaeological techniques. The ‘odd and not quite right’ years in my story now match up much better and are much more like what my original time line was like. I went from the image above to a hugh beaming smile! So, how did I find out about these very recent changes?
More thorough research, of course. But now to some questionable bits…
Record: I tried to be organised when I started the researching for my latest novel. Here are some strategies I’ve used which should have been helpful…
Mark textbooks – My main textbooks (big fat historical tomes) have multiple post-it slips to mark relevant pages. (Scribbled on to identify topics/ dates etc which I’ve had to refer back to often as I’ve written the book )
Save – Research from internet sources is saved a dedicated folder/ files. (Some of the best research has been printed out for ease of use and sits in a big bulldog clip at the side of my keyboard.)
Print – Historical maps have been printed (also at the ready in a clip and saved on file.)
Draw– My time-lines are recorded in pencils on large sheets of paper.
Create and save as I’ve written the novel– A file has been created for: Latin terms; useful images; characters in the novel along with the meaning of their names where appropriate; place names that I’ve used; a list of the structure of the Roman Army ( to keep me accurate); Celtic terms and names.
Backup: all files are backed-up on a separate extra hard disc (to avoid loss of data)
Use: Information from my recent April A to Z challenge posts has been used in my story where the research has overlapped.
Brilliant and fantastic for future projects!
Those strategies seemed good but I’ve now got a dog’s breakfast of sheets and slips of paper, little notes and crumpled maps, in my bulldog clips. My dedicated hard disc ‘folder/files’ of Roman Britain has got a bit mixed up, me having dumped loads of extra (but sort of related) information in it.
Since I’ve already written one Celtic/Roman Britain historical, and two ancestral mystery novels, I should probably find the recording processes much easier. Don’t you think?
(w)Rite: I’d better get my story finished quickly because by the end of the summer the history of it just might be out of kilter again!
Yet, I’m wondering what I can be do better for future novels.
What sort of techniques do you use for your research findings? I’d love to hear what you do.
ps My next novel just might be a contemporary one with no research needed!
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