Research thoughts

Joe’s Post #128

Research Insights … OMG, not ‘research’, again, right?

sharpeWell, I decided to take a look at some books that I loved. You know, historical books. I didn’t read through them, again, but just took a look at the first pages and a few chapters. And it gave me a few insights I’d like to share. The books I looked at were Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwall, the Brother Cadfael series by Edith Parteger (Ellis Petters), and Dorothy Dunnett’s books (Lymond, Niccolo series).

So, are you ready?

  1. Jamie Fraser from Outlander

    I read them all for the characters. Yup, that’s right, the characters. So if you’re going to get anything right, get the characters right, right?

  2. Setting is a character. I know I just said that I read them for the characters, and now I say setting is a character, but with these writers, it’s not just a place to set a scene, it’s an active part of the story (like a chase across the red-tiles roofs of Venice.)
  3. None of them bog us down with details. A few writers that I’ve read (and honestly couldn’t finish) had vast swaths of information about the period they researched, like they wanted to show us how much research they’d done.
  4. The characters live and breathe in their world. By this I mean the world for them is not a collection of facts, but a real place, with real smells, and sounds, and all of that seen THROUGH the character’s eyes.
  5. spoonDetails are (mostly) added sparingly. Like a sprinkling of salt. “Picked up the wooden spoon”, vs “picked up the wooden spoon carved from a spruce branch that was cut in the summer which was, in fact, the best time to cut such things”.
  6. windowsWhen they spend time on details, it’s because it matters to the character. Like the first time they see something or when it’s a wow moment for them. I mean, hey, the first time I saw Chartres Cathedral in all its glory, I was gobsmacked (yes, that’s a word). That we, as human beings, took hundreds of years to create perfection in stone and glass and wood, that every detail, every window, every carving had a purpose, made me stare in wonder at what we could do when we put our minds to it.
  7. food hollandFood, dammit, food. That Don Maass guy know his stuff when he talked about food being a vital part of taking someone back in time. Why? Because we are all linked to food. But all these masters of writing do way more than just sit someone down with a nice cup of tea, they add tension, smarty-pants dialogue, mood, and even suspense in that scene as well.
  8. Story is key. Outlander, for example, is a time-traveling story, perhaps more science fiction than historical fiction, but the tale she tells of Claire and Jamie is one that’s hard to put down. I honestly can’t remember if she got the kilts right, but damn, she nailed the romance.

So, that’s all for today. Just a few insights into research while I work away on my novel. Now I’m going to bug my Netherlands experts on what they would have eaten.

So what makes a good historical novel for you? Come on, I really want to know!

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Best show last week – Being sick for most of the week, I watched a bit more TV than normal. The Killing is perhaps the most depressing show I’ve seen in a long while. It’s unrelentingly grey. Brilliant, but grey.

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. Nope, still not sold on this. It’s going to be a slog to finish. Not that there isn’t interesting stuff happening, but it’s happening to other people. His protagonist is not the hero of the story, or even the narrator.

Pages written on new book  40 (Could be more, I did a lot of rewriting this week.)

Social Media update – Trying to do a bit more on this blog. Have you seen the changes?

Health  Still sick. Dammit.

Best thing last week  Down 10 lbs now. Awesome. Forget that it was due to sickness.

Worst thing  The flu. Yup, still the worst thing. Yuck.

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

Lastly, again, my favourite author, Sean Slater, had his newest book released in Canada. I honestly believe it’s his best book he’s written, and he got virtually no support from the publisher, so if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.

Slater

More ‘It’

Joe’s Post #95

I am often accused of beating a dead horse.

Well, I’m too old to stop. I want to continue to look at the ‘it’ factor.

Karalee said it might be imagination and I thought, you know what, that’s not a bad observation, especially when we’re talking books over movies. 50

Great books stir us. Fan fiction gets written. Like when E.L James read Twilight, (and drank a few glasses of wine, me thinks) it inspired her to write 50 Shades. Blogs get posted (hey, just do a search for blogs on Harry Potter  and you’ll see what I mean ). Debates get started (whole forums are filled with Game of Thrones arguments and for the record, Tyrion IS THE BEST CHARACTER in the series, ok, the best!) Costumes made.

Wait, what, we all don’t make costumes?

Paula talked about ‘it’ from a writer’s POV, like what makes her want to write. And what motivates her to write is history. Her own. Others.

I totally get that.

Silk, wrote about ‘it’ coming from the heart and even, god bless her, quoted the economist. She’s bang on, as always. ‘It’ has to come from the heart.

And that makes me realize, we’re all kinda talking about the same thing, about where ‘it’ comes from both from us as reader and writers. hope

It’ inspires us.

Characters, setting, plot, laughter, tears, hope, fears, whatever.

For a book to have ‘it’, it must make me want to do something. It must spark my imagination. I want to talk about it, write about it, live in that world…

hobbitWhen I stole the Hobbit from my brother and read it, it inspired me to write hobbit fiction, learn dungeons and dragons (yes, I am that nerdy), and make more maps than a coked-up cartographer. When I read books like Sean Slater’s Striker series, or the Jack Reachers, or The Wheel of Time or LeCarre’s spy novels, I wanted to write books like that.

But writing can inspire us in other ways. It can make us better people. (and by that I mean wear a kilt after reading Outlander). It can make us think about things we hadn’t thought about. (I must have looked up every aspect of Mars after reading the Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – however, the less said about all the maps and pictures I drew the better.) It can make us do things we’d normally not try (Bill Bryson made me want to travel and fall down a hill, oh and make maps.)

So, every book I’ve ever written has been inspired by someone else’s book.

And I want to write a book what will inspire others to write about my character’s backstory, or the world before or after my book takes place, or what would happen if my protagonist wore a kilt and loved to bind girls with silky ties?

A lofty goal?

Sure.

But why not try?

Now, lemme think. Has my book got anything that will inspire anyone to do anything?