For my current wip, I had to do quite a lot of background research, some of which was very boring (dry tomes full of facts I didn’t actually need), but other parts were great fun. The story is set in 1750’s Scotland, so that justified a visit to the Highlands to tour the areas where I’d decided my story took place. And I got to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes, going around ancient castles, since they might serve as models for the one in my novel. What could be better?
I also spent an afternoon at a Highland folk museum where they had built up houses original to the period I was writing about. Seeing these firsthand was invaluable and made me adjust several scenes in my novel which hopefully made them more authentic. Without going there, I might not have realised just how much you reek after just a few minutes of sitting by a real peat fire in a smoky hut or the fact that the doors were so low even I had to bend down to enter (at 5’3” that doesn’t happen much!). And if I’d never seen a real “shieling” hut, I wouldn’t have had known how uncomfortable it must have been for a six-foot-plus male to try and sleep in there.
I’m quite an impatient person and normally I don’t enjoy research much, I just want to get on with the story. I feel as if descriptions of any kind hold me back and prevent me from moving on to the interesting parts, like character interaction, romance and adventure, but I know they’re necessary. So I’ve reached a compromise with myself – I do a little bit of general research first (since I write historicals, I have to know about the main events of the period obviously), then I write a draft version of the story with very sketchy descriptions and after that I finally do the research and go back and complete the background details. This stops me from being jolted out of the flow, which can be so distracting. It also allows me to be more specific in the kind of background research I do, because by the time I’ve written the novel in draft, I’ll know exactly what I need to find out.
This might sound like a chaotic way of working, but somehow, it all comes together in the end. How do you do it? Do you do all your research first or are you impatient like me, leaving most of it till the end?
Please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz.