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  1. jwilder
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    jwilder Member

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    How detailed to be in my research?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by jwilder, Jul 26, 2010.

    The mystery I'm writing is set in 1900's Paris, and my main character interacts extensively with real-life political and socialite figures of the time. At one point, I have a scene where the sister of a famous actress is murdered onstage in front of an audience that includes the French President and Prime Minister. I'm definitely taking artisitic liberties because history dictates the actress never had a sister and no one in her family was ever murdered.

    My question now becomes, does adding a nonexistent family member and murdering her cross too far out of the realm of historical accuracy to make the scenario believable? And, should I be so detailed in my research to determine if the President and Prime Minister actually were in the country at the time and thus would have been able to go to the theatre and interact with my main antagonist? This just seems to be almost too much research and it feels extremely restricting in terms of whom my characters can interact with.

    Perhaps I'm over-thinking this. It feels like it, but I can't shake that little voice whispering darkly "be historically accurate!" as I write.

    Thanks for your suggestions!
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even within a history essay or book, too much accuracy can make it dull and difficult to wade through. Ever heard of the scientific historians? Most people haven't, they don't even have a wikkipedia entry lol They tried to write history in an unbiased analytical fashion. They were all the rage during the time your book is set lol.

    Something you could do is tweak the name of the famous actress so its obvious who you mean, but you avoid the inaacuracy criticisms. I would just check there was no major political event taking the President and Prime Minister out of the country . I personally found too much research used to hamper my essay marks at university, as I gave too much information and not enough analysis
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're writing fiction, not fact. You're allowed to take liberties. Your story takes place far enough away in time that I doubt anybody would chastise you.

    I'm dealing with a similar issue right now. I'm working on a story that takes place in the early days of the space program, when the Americans and the Soviets were racing to the moon. I have to change some historical fact about this, so I'm trying to signal to the reader that this is a kind of alternative history by changing the names of the astronauts and the programs themselves.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!
     
  5. Three
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    Three Member

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    Research research research!!! Then change to suit your story. I feel like I'm disappointing my characters if I don't research at least twice as much as what the reader actually sees. Research!
    I disagree. Just because you know that the prime minister at the time had two daughters, lived in the countryside just outside of Paris and had a fondness for the Russian Ballet DOESN'T mean it will make it's way into the story.

    The advantage to over-and-above research is that it puts you at ease, even if you find out you have to exercise your artistic license and fluff the truth a little. Also, sometimes it will give an idea or something to work with that you wouldn't otherwise have. In the above example, maybe the murder takes place at the Russian Ballet... or something.

    That would work perfectly. Tried and true method.

    Ah, but you don't have to tell the reader every little tidbit you know. This is fiction, not a term paper.

    I dunno, that's just my opinion about it. I enjoy researching time periods, occupations, music, and many assortments of random things my characters require. I also feel a whole lot better writing things that I know are mostly historically accurate (with a few tweaks here and there) than worrying every time I sit down to write whether or not ballpoint pens had been invented before the 1880's. (Long before, btw.)
    As long as you and your characters are happy (and not trying to convince us that Elizabeth the first had seven babies and was a shy, timid person). :)
     
  6. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of people here keep stressing the importance of research, especially when you are writing about a topic or location in which the reader might have more first hand experience than you. I listened to the advice but didn't truly appreciate the seriousness of the matter until I came upon a book called Cold Granite by Stuart Macbride. I tossed his book aside on the smallest technical error, but it was enough for me to lose respect in the credibility of the story.

    I vaguely enjoyed the book. What I was not expecting was the author to make a schoolboy mistake regarding Scottish court room etiquette.

    In the novel, a judge is referred to as "Your honour" on more than one occasion. In Scots law, the judge is addressed as "My Lord" or "Your Lordship" at all times. "Your honour" is the term used to address the American Bench. Any lawyer using American etiquette in a Scottish court room would be torn apart for making such a terrible error.

    I work in the legal profession so admit that my knowledge is more extensive than the average reader but I think a bit of research by Macbride would have quickly corrected his wrongful assumptions.

    Because of this, thorough and in depth research is at the top of my agenda.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally never lacked that much confidence I write my story then research what I need for it, the world for me is always the slave of the story not the other way round. If I want to tell it a certain way just find out if it could have happened.


    Actually I can think of several ways to tell that story. Would be perfectly possible for Elizabeth to have a hidden family - she is descended from Owen Tudor afterall

    And there are aspects to her life where you could make a case for shyness and timidity and that what you got was all a show.
     

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