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  1. #1
    Keith Postler

    How much research?

    Hey, folks, here's a question for you:

    How much research do you think is necessary for a successful fiction work, based on the lives of historical figures?

    I'm working on this story about a playwright, and I've just forced myself to stop conducting research into his life and the lives of the supporting cast central to the story. I've just spent a few exhaustive days combing the internet -- relying mostly on scholarly and journalistic pieces -- for research material, and amassed a two-inch thick, three-ring binder of material.

    I have no intention of using it all, obviously. The goal was to gather enough information to immerse myself in the era and the culture, to try and think like the characters.

    Now I feel I'm prepared to start actually writing. I have a chapter by chapter outline, research material, and I'm finally ready to go.

    Any thoughts out there on what techniques people follow to create believable characters and stories? Thanks.


  2. #2

    Re: How much research?

    As Control once told George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Learn the facts and then fit them on your character like a suit of clothes.

    There is definitely a point of no return when it comes to research, but too much is definitely better than too little.

    I'm finishing a historical novel with completely made up characters and it took work and research to make them real. My next project will involve some very real historical characters. I did a crapload of research on them a long, long time ago. And I think I've let their personalities stew sufficiently that I can start making characters out of them. But as in the project I'm on now the characters will need to go their own way somewhat, though within bounds of what I know happened.

    I'm not sure this was any help.
    but good luck

  3. #3
    Gopinathan Thachappilly

    Re: How much research?

    Dear Keith,

    How much research is a topic that was bugging me also.

    I wanted to write a novel set in my state (Keralam, India) of two thousand years ago, and started looking around for material. Unlike in the case of Europe and the US, the question of plenty did not arise. Material available was little, and they also did not reveal those little details which make for authentic creation. I have not yet been able to find out the type of houses people of the selected region lived in those days.

    With little material, I began to wonder about things that lend authenticity to the atmosphere. When I began to think on these lines, I was a little overwhelmed.

    People talk and think in terms of the concepts that float around. Could I, living in this modern age, identify and eliminate all the concepts that could not have been around in those times? Could I think and act like people who had only the concepts that remained? It was a daunting task. Yet I remembered a few fictional (and contemporary) works where the writers had succeeded in creating hauntingly authentic atmospheres of the people they were writing about.

    In the place and time I was researching, fighting and killing were honourable, provided you fought fair, giving the enemy notice to prepare. As all fighting was done with hands or weapons like swords and spears, the honourable people left would have been strong and skilled fighters. Looting was honourable provided you shared the loot among your neighbors and those who came seeking your charity. Yet even among the killers and looters, poets, singers and scholars prospered. These people did not have to fight. They lived on the charity received from the killers and looters, and complained loudly not only if the quantum was unsatisfactory but also if the alms were given without showing proper respect to them! It was a strange world, with which I find it very difficult emotionally to identify with. Perhaps I should rechristen the killers and looters as heroes and alms seeking beggars as brilliant artists with rare insights!

  4. #4
    Rachelle Lundy

    Re: How much research?

    I know 'from where you are coming'. I too write historicals but I choose to make my characters fictitious and the event real.
    The way that I approached it was to first read novels along the same lines as mine. This gave me a feel for the genre and a sense of how it should flow. I then searched the net for all information pertinent to my period. In my case that is the Regency period. I chose an, at least to me, obscure fact of history, namely the Cato Street Conspiracy. I researched the actual events and then wove a mystery. My characters' job is to discover the conspiracy and foil it. Interlaced with this task, they become romantically involved.
    Probably not the most original of plots but I find it a great deal of fun to write.

    Hope this helps ...,

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