1. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    How much research is needed?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by HisSweetheart, Jun 14, 2017.

    Something I've wondered about is how much research should you do before writing about a certain topic or era. Should you only write about things you know or does it matter? I know for fantasy or science-fi it doesn't matter but what about other than that? I have an idea for a story that is set back in the time of kings and queens but not England. I'll probably end making up my own country/countries for it. I'm a very inexperienced writer as I have started several stories but only finished three that I had to do for Lit. in high school. So I guess I asking what is needed and what can be made up.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Contributor Contributor

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    As you'll find if you hang around this forum long enough, the answer to every question is "it depends".

    It depends on your personal preference. It depends on your genre, and audience. You say it doesn't matter for fantasy or sci-fi, but there are hard-sci-fi people out there that love a story based in well-researched, actual science--think of The Martian. And a lot of the fantasy par excellence, LOTR, was informed by Tolkien's lifetime as a professor of Anglo-Saxon. He used his knowledge of archaic languages to help invent his various forms of Elvish, and also took a lot of inspiration from Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian mythology to inform his backstory.

    It also depends on what you're researching, and what you count as research--do you mean only reading primary or secondary sources, or can you research in other ways (observation as you go about your own life, for instance?).

    I mean, the real answer is that you need as much research as it takes for the story to be done.
     
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  3. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    Ok, that helps. I always tend to second guess myself and wonder if I am doing everything the way it is supposed to be done or if there are a set a rules to a certain part of writing or stuff like that. I guess maybe I should just jump in and see what happens. :write:
     
  4. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    It matters a lot for good sci-fi. Issac Asimov would spend weeks in a library doing research and talking to professors.

    The most important thing to think about in research is not to take it what happened, but why it happened. King George gave the US independence. We fought for it, but we couldn't have possibly beaten back the British at full force. They decided to focus on France.

    Also, during what time period? You mean the time of absolute monarchs? Because many countries still have kings and queens, including, but not limited to: Australia, Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden... and obviously: England.
     
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  5. Infel

    Infel Senior Member

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    The more you research into reality and draw on it, the more real your story is going to feel. It's one of those things where the rule "break the rules on purpose, and know the rules so you can break them" comes into play. If you want to write about King's and Queens, it's totally alright to make them absolutely opposite of actual historical evidence--as a matter of fact, that's very interesting. But you're going to have an easier time of that if you know the history so that you can alter it for your purposes.

    I would just keep a Youtube documentary on in the background while you do things. Research actual historical events; I recommend the Battle of Hastings, the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, and the French Revolution.

    The problem with NOT doing your research is that most people's idea of "medieval times" comes from an incredibly blanketed idea of everything that happened from the fall of Rome through the Renaissance. Which is fine, I guess, but you'll impress more people if you do the research, I guess?

    I'm just a fan of research ._.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    If you're making up your own countries, I would tend to call this fantasy, even if it lacks dragons and magic. Which doesn't necessarily help--some fantasy is fairly closely tied to the real world, and some is not tied at all.

    So I think that to some extent the question is inevitably circular. You might get some guidance by thinking of a book that seems to have the same level of reality versus nonreality that you'd like to emulate.

    For example, The Mouse That Roared is about a fictional country (the Duchy of Grand Fenwick). But it was intended in part as political commentary on the international political and economic situation of the Cold War period. But it was a comedy/satire. All of those things affect just how realistic it needed to be. However, to make a decision on realism/non-realism, I suspect that a great deal of real-world knowledge was required, so that would probably be a high-research book. (I don't know if it was high-research for the author; I tend to assume that if he wanted to satirize elements of the world, he probably already knew quite a bit about those elements.)

    Wise Child by Monica Furlong is a fantasy, but it was tightly tied to a specific period in history and a specific place. So the author could freely create magical situations, but I'd bet that she took substantial care to make sure that the rest of her setting was pretty accurate.

    Lawrence Block's Dresden Files books are packed with fantasy characters and situation, but against a real-world setting. I don't know exactly how much research he does into, for example, police procedure, but I'd bet that if and when he gets it wildly wrong, he probably gets letters.

    Agatha Christie's Miss Marple lived in the totally fictional village of St. Mary Mead, but the stories were otherwise set in the real world--though I'm confident that she took whatever liberties worked for her when it came to police procedure, German spies, and so on.

    Anyway. I'd suggest thinking of books or movies or TV shows that have the sort of reality mix that you have in mind. Maybe we could give you more specific advice.
     
  7. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    Ya, they would be absolute monarchs. I'm thinking probably the time of the Plantagenets. So nothing modern at all.
     
  8. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    The closest I can come up with is Princess Diaries. The country of Genovia was fictional but alot of the first one happened in the US.


    .....But I'm not sure yet that I'll even have any real world in the book. It's still an idea that is pretty vague in some areas but seems doable so I've been playing with it. But with house-hunting and two kids under two I don't have a lot of uninterrupted time to just sit down and work through it.
     
  9. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    Depends on how accurate you want to be.
    The more research you do the better the
    realism is to your story.

    I write Sci-fi and have done at least 6 hours of
    research on different things. So don't you tell me
    I do not need to research things because of the
    genre I write.

    So it all falls down to how 'real' do you want your
    story to be. The more research you do the better
    it will be in the accuracy department.
     
  10. Atrophied_Silence

    Atrophied_Silence Member

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    First off, kudos for actually taking the time to ask this as opposed to just shaking it off. Research is what gets me hyped the most about writing, especially when everything comes together perfectly and accurately. I also 100% agree with Robert Musil, research in my opinion will always matter since it gets rid of any possible plot holes. Fiction will only get you so far when it comes to magic and science. If you are making up your own country, you should probably think of which country you want to more closely represent.

    Good luck!
     
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  11. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    Sorry, I didn't mean it that way. I just meant you can make everything up as you go if you want because no one knows for sure what is really out there or not. Same with fantasy. It's all make-believe so anything is possible. That's all I meant.
     
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  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    It is ok, I am at times misunderstanding of others thoughts.
    It was not out of anger, but of another place. We cool? :)
     
  13. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    Ya, I already know I'll need to do some research into court structures and procedures for that era. And I'll probably see if I can find a small European country, preferably one that doesn't exist any more, and tweek it to work for me.
     
  14. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that even for fantasy, informal research (just reading a lot of books about a lot of things) can be useful in the sense that it knocks down your assumptions about what is obvious, and widens the possibilities for what you make up. It's also a more-fun kind of research, because you're not desperately trying to hunt for a specific fact.

    In The Rituals of Dinner, by Margaret Visser, I read about a society for whom a normal meal is soup accompanied by, for each diner, a heap of little round pieces of bread. You dip the soup in the bread to eat. When that society has famines and there is no bread and only the thinnest of soup, they nevertheless put a heap of small round rocks by the diner, because having a shape that looks right is comforting, even if that shape can't be made of food.

    And while I already knew that individual forks are a relatively modern invention, I didn't know the related fact that eating food quite hot is a relatively modern invention, too, because the fork allows you to do so without burning your hands.

    I love stuff like that.
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    My vague understanding--but don't take my word for it--is that Germany, before it was unified, was a dizzying collection of little city-states. You could find/make your country there.
     
  16. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    Sure thing. Just wanted to make sure I hadn't offended you by bashing all the work you put into your stories.
     
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  17. HisSweetheart

    HisSweetheart Member

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    Ya, I think you're right. I thought about Luxembourg but would need to study into it some to see if it would work.
     
  18. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Contributor Contributor

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    Having thought about it some more, I tend to think of research under a larger rubric of what you might call "thoroughness". So much of writing a good narrative is considering all the angles. Too many people decide they need their story to get to point C (whether that's a certain theme or emotional affect or whatever), and then they make character A do action B in order to get there. But this is just as much putting the cart before the horse as it sounds. In reality, you need to ask: under what circumstances, given the rules of the world in which this story is set (developing consistent internal rules being another part of being thorough), -would- character A do action B? Have I set it up so that would be plausible to a reasonable observer? If not, I need to change either my end point, or my set up.

    Research can be a part of this process, and is more so the closer your story world resembles the real world. Although even the most fantastical stories have to have some recognizable elements, or else no one will understand them.
     
  19. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    The house of Plantagenet ruled England from 1145 to 1485. Magna Carta was 1215. So, most of their rule was specifically NOT as absolute monarchs. They also had large territories outside England, including the Holy Roman Emperorship. Edward I styled himself Lord Paramount of Scotland.
    It was, in fact, the ending of the house of Plantagenet with the accession of the house of Tudor that kingship became more, rather than less, absolute; how else could Henry VIII play so fast and loose with his wives, and with the church?

    Charles I tried to rule as an absolute monarch in the 17th century. The loss of his head was the clearest indication that he was wrong.
     

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