Front Page, Musings

Weekly Musing: How Much Research is Too Much Research?

For the past few months I have been deep in once again revising a historical fiction novel I’ve been working on and off for years. While I put in months researching before even drafting a single word, with every subsequent draft I’ve found myself continuing to conduct research. At first the research was to ground myself in the history of the events, the people involved, and give myself a general idea of the culture of the time period.

One of the challenges for me with research has been to figure out how to restrain myself from putting in every detail I come across I find interesting. For example, when buttons were introduced in late Middle Ages Europe they caused a minor scandal as clothing was now easier to put on and take off. Another challenge is how much my own pre-conceived notions change from learning the facts. I go into my writing wanting to correct all the relatively little falsehoods I’ve read and seen in movies. But then I realize in order to move the scene along it may very well just be easier to cut corners. I’m sure there is a way of doing it both correctly and in narratively smooth way.

But the biggest challenge is when to know to back off on over research. Getting tripped up over mundane details which no one will care about yet I’ve somehow convinced myself someone out will be paying attention. For example, I got wrapped up in trying to figure out what was the specific breakdown of the late 14th century currency in England for one scene where one character pays a fee to get his brother out of jail. Luckily I stopped myself from taking it further and trying to find a schedule of fees for such a thing because I’m sure it exists in a library collection. This type of research is a waste of time.

I should be focusing my time on are the different types of castles which factor massively into the story as well as armor and weaponry and battle formations. Things such as landscape and other setting details like food, clothing, building materials are important but not as much. These are the types of details a savvy reader are apt to call an author out on for bungling up not if I said 10 pennies made up 1 shilling in 1403 England. Most importantly the research I should be paying attention to are the things which the characters would care about.

What I must constantly tell myself is a phrase I saw a few years ago: “Don’t overdo the research, don’t overthink the research.” See my brain, which is still so used writing research papers, wants to write in a style of throwing in facts. It wars with the artistic side which constantly reminds me what I now work on is fiction written within the confines of history or whatever reality the story is based on. The fiction is what ultimately should win out. Until I somehow get that through my head, the research struggle shall continue and I shall continue to clog my brain up with curiously wonderful facts that maybe I’ll be use to scream out while playing Jeopardy at home.


Weekly Musings: A Lost Love

Over the past few months, a lost love has slinked its way back into my life. But it’s not someone my husband should be worried about, although this love is quite formidable and has been in my life far longer than he could ever hope to be. This love can be found anywhere, sometimes it is small and unassuming, sometimes large and hard to miss. This love covers all things known to man and some only known to aliens. It contains all forms of expression: the good, the great, the bad, and the ugly but only the mind and the heart can make that judgment. My lost love beckons me in the form of ink, paper, pictures, and as of late, me in kilobytes. My lost love is the library.

I’ve had a library card as long as I can remember being eligible for one. Growing up, the library was my favorite place, perhaps in part because it was pretty much the only place I was allowed to go, because it held all these books you could get for free. I don’t remember how many times a week I went to the public library but it had to have averaged at least once a week. I loved looking through the rows of the books, the number of rows expanding as I got older, to find something I hadn’t read. A small thrill would go through me as I raced to get through a stack of books before they were due. Don’t misunderstand, I wasn’t trying to speed read them for the sake of getting through them, no, I wanted to make sure I understood what I read but the added factor of a due date was a challenge for my brain. I imagine it’s the nerdy equivalent to bungee jumping or something.

When I was a teenager, both the public and school libraries were transitioning into installing computers. I didn’t think much of computers. I’d played a few games on them at a friend’s house and occasionally ‘Oregon Trail’ at school although I preferred my gaming to be on a console but other than that, I didn’t see what the big deal was. I was introduced to the Internet as a research tool my junior year of high school. It was still very new, still very slow, and clunky to use. Didn’t help when you misspelled a word resulting in no search results (yes, the Internet didn’t used to ask you if you actually meant something else). As a research tool, I found it inefficient and lacking the kind of information I could find much faster amongst the books. Card catalogs and the Dewey Decimal System for the win!

But an odd thing happened to my love when I went to college. I began to fall out of love with the library. I have determined it was because during college, I read so much for school, that the idea of reading for fun, a function I had associated with the library, was squashed. The library during college was purely a means to find books I, thankfully, didn’t have to pay for in order to complete a paper. Didn’t help the library building was a reflection of hideous 1960s architecture. I’ve been to my alma mater since graduation and am supremely jealous of their gorgeous new library, designed to look like a proper library.

Even upon graduation, the library and reading had lost me as a friend and wouldn’t regain me for a couple of years. We had broken up mutually, silently, to see other people, to spread our wings. If you love something, you must let it go and hope it will return to you.

Slowly, though, I crawled back to my local library for fun and education. Upon entering the doors, inhaling the smell of ink and paper, experiencing that glorious reverent sound of silence, I apologized for my lost faith in the strength of our love.

With the opening of a new branch of the local library system this past week, conveniently close to my house, I am reminded of the power a library has in a community. It opens up worlds to people. It affords glimpses into lives of people we will never meet but who we may oddly feel a kinship to. Libraries, both brick-and-mortar and online, are the keepers of the world’s knowledge. Any time of the day, I can flip through the library’s catalog for book I’ve heard about through some other book I’m reading or via a website. There is even the possibility of contacting a library in another country for materials not available locally.

Yes, the library and I are in love again. When you offer a girl the whole world, how can you turn a suitor down?