Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Getting it right

A writer, contemporary or historical, from any genre, has a choice when putting together their book-- fudge details or research them. It's not hard to smooth over places where details aren't known. On the other hand, there is the option to do research and find all the places where information resides-- these days a lot of which is discovered on the internet. 

Then the problem is-- how much to include. The more writers know about something, the better they can write their story. But almost never do they put all that was learned into it. Actually, in romance, I'd say absolutely never. Laundry lists of details can turn off even the most dedicated reader.

Recently, between writing the first half of my new work, I have been swallowed by research with new things popping up as I discover this or that would have happened. The romance part I knew before I began. Its only research is to be open to the nature of their characters and keep their actions consistent to that. Being open to that led me to three secondary characters that I hadn't expected but that added a lot to the story and my enjoyment of writing it.

My greatest research has been into the Pre-Columbian ruins in the region today known as the Sierra Ancha. Even though the actual dig will be fiction, I needed a lot of information and some of it was not easy to acquire. What words were used for these sites in 1901? Did the researchers already call the earlier peoples the Hohokam, Mogollon, Chaco, Anasazi, Salada, or Sinagua?  Most likely not; so what did they call them?

Some people dislike Google for overreach. This is one area where their overreach is a huge help to writers like myself. With their help and that of universities, research books have been scanned and can be read by anyone doing a search. These are books the average person could not buy unless they were willing to pay hundreds of dollars and sometimes, not even then. Libraries, with limited space, have long since sold them off.  If a facility had the space, the books ended up buried in dusty rooms. Not places the average writer is likely to access.

Scanned books sometimes are the literal pages, which you read by clicking through the book. Some are available online as a doc or pdf. Those are often harder to read due to the scanner misreading certain letters. 

What I most needed were books actually written during the late 19th century or early 20th. What would such an explorer or ethnologist have viewed? Who might he have talked to? What names did he use? Yeah, though my heroine is a budding archaeologist, it was usually men back then-- although the field was changing.

One such useful volume was 'Final Report of Investigations Among The Indians of the Southwestern United States, Carried on Mainly in the Years From 1880 to 1885' by A. F. Bandelier which was originally published in 1892. He was not an archaeologist but an ethnographer with a fascination for ancient cultures. His trips to as many of the ruins as he could find, as well as his discussions with the indigenous cultures living there, was invaluable for what my heroine would have heard and known.

For writing this book, I had a big advantage in my daughter being an archaeologist, who although she is not working in the field today because of family, she was involved in a lot of digs. I asked her for something that might give me archaeological methods from 1900 or so. It turned out that she owned such a book written in 1904, which she said she'd loan me. I worried about being responsible for a book I thought would be hard to replace.

I looked online and there it was-- 'Methods and Aims of Archaeology' was written by W. M. Flinders Petrie who did his work in Egypt, but his methods were what my heroine would have been taught in her university studies.

I didn't need to know all my heroine knew but I wanted to make her feel believable for her knowledge. Researching a subject like this is total fascination for me. 

More coming in the next blog about another aspect that my research revealed :)

The photos are of places I've visited across the Southwest-- none actually in the region where my story is set but they would look a lot alike. The petroglyph might be of Kokopelli, although there is no hump on his back; so maybe not.


Tabor said...

I like that you are such a good researcher and I can see where 99% of what you learn colors your writing even though it never gets into the book. I wrote a fiction piece years ago about an archaeologist...it never went anywhere...but I remember trying to do some research and running into roadblocks. I think the Internet is marvelous in its ability to help writers. Can you imagine how much work it was to write years ago before computers, before the Internet?

Tabor said...

Oh, I wanted to also comment how the author of Wolf Hall, Mantel, says she NEVER includes something that she knows is untrue regarding the facts of the era and that she does endless research. Her works show that.

Linda Kay said...

I try to make sure I don't make any assumptions, so either do research or consult an expert in the field. I'm currently working with a counselor on dialogue with one of my characters. Did you notice that in the first picture, the wall appears to have a face?

Rain Trueax said...

I think the hard part is to know something is true today but it was not known then and sometimes that the exact opposite was believed. That though doesn't impact someone's actions like Wolf Hall but more the facts under which that character would have been operating.

I had not seen the face and interesting on working with a counselor on dialogue, Linda. I love writing dialogue. It's the most fun to write and challenging to keep each character speaking true to who they are.

Ashleigh Burroughs said...

"Swallowed by research"..... I see a giant Kokopeli devouring you... perhaps that is the hump on his back?

Rain Trueax said...

lol The story is that Kokopelli was quite the womanizer so you never know ;)