1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    How Far Will You Go for Verisimilitude?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Catrin Lewis, Feb 22, 2014.

    I must be nuts. I'm revising a novel I "completed" several years ago, writing some new chapters that flesh out the main character and close some major motivational holes. The chapter I'm working on now revolves around a certain piece of classical music, and since my characters are listening to it in 1975, it has to be vinyl and recorded prior to then. But not too many years prior, since my MC considers it to be a "new" recording when she receives it as a gift and it has to be one she doesn't already know. It also has to be a highly-rated, compelling rendition of the work, since the power of it makes my characters say and do certain things vital to the plot.

    I own a pre-1975 recording of this music, but it's a rather make-do, economy version of it, all I could afford at the time.

    So what did I do? I went online and found a list of major recordings of the piece made before 1975. I Googled those closest to that year and read reviews of likely candidates. I focussed in on the one that was the most highly-rated, that might ergo be expected to produce the desired effect on my characters. I learned what parts of the composition were on what sides of the two-record set, and verified that no movements were split. And then, not content with all that, I--

    I just went on Ebay and bought a copy of the LP in question.

    This is crazy. This novel I'm revising will never count as Great Literature. I'm already posting it publicly on my writer's blog, so I'll never make a dime out of it. Hell, I can't even get my friends and relations to click over from Facebook and read it, even though it's there for free. But there I go, spending the time and money anyway.

    So how important is research to you? How far will you go for verisimilitude?
     
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  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't know if I'd go that far. Lol. But depending on the research I'll buy books on certain subjects I may not have read. For instance my novel includes rats - so I bought a book on rat behavior and have been studying it. The rats aren't a big portion of the book but the mc knows about them so I better know about them.

    I think if your passionate about the project, and want to get it right and you'd like the record anyhow, why not? I'm enjoying my rat book.

    But on the other hand - experience or exactness shouldn't hold you back from writing something. I'm not going to build a rocket and blast myself to the moon just to write about it. I'll do the research I want to do and is necessary, then I'll wing the rest. I wrote a story about a scuba diver and I've never gone scuba diving - in fact I haven't gone swimming in years but it turned out okay. Writing is about bluffing and convincing, all you have to do is convince the reader. Accuracy helps but it doesn't always guarantee interesting.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Definitely not that far. :p I'm OK with the fact that some of the stuff I include isn't going to be 100% accurate. Most readers [hopefully] will be OK with it, too.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I haven't done anything like that yet, but I'm sure I will in due course. I get obsessed with things very easily, and so I'll research everything on the subject to the best of my ability. That's why I have so many books around the house! :p I'll be needing to chat with doctors and psychiatrists pretty soon though for a couple of WIP novels, but I'll do that when writing my second drafts. If I research during the first draft, I won't enjoy the writing so much, and therefore the writing won't be as good as it needs to be for a first draft.
     
  5. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    i might give something a brief glance in the google machine but apart from that...meh cant be bothered.
     
  6. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, yes, liking the record anyway was a big part of it. I'm a fan of vinyl, and it's about time I got a recording of the work that doesn't split the third movement across the sides. I'm sure that if a character I was writing was into, say, rap music, I doubt I'd go so far. ;)

    I think knowing what my characters are hearing will make the words flow better and get me unstuck. The writing on this chapter has been pretty colorless and mechanical so far!
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    That's one of the great things about doing research that involves the senses! I love having my characters eat something and... just having to do the research for it.
     
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  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I do some research if I'm unsure of something.

    There's a special case, though: My first novel is something I started writing back in the 1980s, and I got through a first draft and the first third of the second. I'm still passionate about the story and the characters, and it's my ultimate project, but I had to learn more about writing before I could carry on with it. But I also had to learn a TON about the environment the characters were in. The setting is an alternate-history North America with some geological and climate changes. The society is pre-industrial revolution; think the 1500s, roughly. I bought books on Native Canadian and American culture, books on primitive technology, books on tanning hides, books on navigating by the stars, field guides to trees and medicinal plants, and tons of other stuff. I went into the woods in Eastern Ontario in January at midnight, stripped naked and bathed myself in the snow just to find out what it was like. Before I'm finished with the novel, I'll probably read and do a lot more. I need to know what these characters know and experience what they experience (with a few rather gruesome exceptions - I doubt I'll skin a grizzly bear).

    But I don't want to say, "Ben climbed a tree." I want to say, "Ben climbed a speckled alder." I need to know that white pines and paper birch can exist in the same woods. I need to know about the weather around the northern Great Lakes in spring - floods, muskeg, black flies, etc. I need to know practical ways a crippled old man could start a fire if he's caught outside in northern British Columbia. I can't just fake this stuff - everything has to be plausible.

    It's pretty important to me.
     
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  9. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    When you tell a story, you're inviting readers to enter into an unreal world, on the implied promise that they will experience it as if it were real. With that in mind, the operative question regarding research is: How much will keep the majority of readers inside that fictional bubble? The answer will depend on how much the majority of readers probably know about the subject matter in question. If I cut corners on research about something that most readers know a lot about, I risk creating cognitive dissonance that pops the fantasy bubble.

    Applying that to your story: How much can you reasonably expect most readers to know about a particular piece of classical music that was recorded on vinyl 40 years ago? You're making an educated guess, of course, but the answer should tell you how much research, and what kind, you need to do.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2014
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'd like to add that when it comes to sex scenes, I do a lot of research. A lot. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the sake of my readers.
     
  11. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    @thirdwind. They let you watch, eh? ;)
     
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  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't have a good comeback for that at the moment, but when I do you'll be the first to know.
     
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  13. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    A cogent observation on your part. To answer: Not so much about that particular recording, but a lot about the piece of music itself. However, getting the particular recording (over the one I already have) will make me more sure of what I'm writing about. And obviate a lot of cognitive dissonance.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I would absolutely do this, and have done many times while writing. It's not nitpickiness either. You will gain from experiencing the 'real thing,' in ways you won't expect. Just like @minstrel would have gained from his experiences in the north woods.

    I've found that the more research I do, the more my story becomes more than just what was in my head at the start. Knowing details like this does NOT hamstring you at all. It frees you to follow what you've found. It takes you closer to the source.

    Good on you. I would read your novel, no bother. I like your approach.
     
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  15. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    While I won't spend a lot of money on research, I do spend a lot of time and effort to get the details as right as I can make them within reason. Then, if such things exist, I also watch what film makers and TV have done in the same or similar circumstances to see what the public has already been exposed to and thus inclined to accept.
     

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