1. Birmingham

    Birmingham Active Member

    Jan 24, 2011
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    QUICK historical/technological research

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Birmingham, Oct 8, 2012.

    You're writing a novel, you know you'll need to spend some time doing research, and you do. But then, as the plot begins to form, and your characters go in some directions you did not anticipate, you suddenly find yourself ignorantly staring at your computer, not knowing what's the correct way to describe their actions.

    You write about a person in a fantasy world lighting a cigar. But what tools did they use to do that in a technologically backward world?

    You write about a person in a fantasy world getting up and making breakfast? But how did they do that in a technologically backward world?

    There are two solutions. One is to make MORE things up in your fantasy world. You don't know how they used to light a cigar? Decide that elves in your univers have the possibility to magically create a small flame on the tip of their finger.

    The other way is to pick up a history book and find out a bit about the past for its technologies (or, in some cases, the future for its technologies).

    You might be thinking to yourself "well, what's the problem then? You presented a problem and two solutions. Why am I reading this crap?"

    Here's the deal: as I write, and it flows, sometimes I get bogged down in one tiny little technological detall about a world more advanced or a world less advanced (or our world, at times) and I find it time consuming to go through thick physics and/or history books just so I could write two paragraphs.

    So before I google my butt off, do you know of a specific website that is effective in dealing with this? Or, if you don't, do you have any idea how people make breakfast a thousand years ago?
  2. ranjit23das

    ranjit23das Member

    Jul 29, 2012
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    Leeds, UK
    Lovely question Birmingham

    I look forward to reading the answers.

    My question to you is this; would it not make more sense to write the whole scene\ chapter and ensure the story is going in the direction you want it to go and then come back to the chapter and do a 'technology clean up'?

    Like you, I would find it distracting to stop mid-flow of creating my story to bing or google how someone made breakfast a thousand years ago. Its important that you capture the breakfast making routine in an authentic fashion but if having breakfast is only the setting for the discussion the MC is having with someone else then surely getting the discussion 'real' would be more important than capturing if the MC peeled their grapefruit with a stainless steel knife or a piece of sharpened flint?
  3. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Google IS the website you're looking for. Or whatever general search engine you prefer.

    What more fo you want, man! Instant Universal Knowledge?

    Inevitably, sometimes you have to dig deeper, and dig smarter. You can filter through google with the equivalent of a crushed stone grader, or with the precision of an archaeologist with a teaspoon, a dental pick, and a paintbrush, by your choice of search terms. It won't always be easy.'

    To put things in perspective, when I first entered college, research meant spending hours in the stacks of oe or more University libraries, thumbing through card catalogs and squinting into microfiche viewers. the majority of the references you'd see cited would be completely unavailable, sou you had to collect plenty of alternatives. Others would require inter-library requests, and waiting for days.

    I know that sounds like, "I had to walk two miles barefoot to school through three foot snow drifts, an uphill hike both ways." That isn't my intent. I'm just saying that your choices now are so much better now, and improving daily, but you still must take on some of the burden yourself.
  4. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    ditto that!

    GOOGLE does all you can want in re research, with camping out in the library of congress, or the british library running a poor second...
  5. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Jun 13, 2010
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    Queens, NY
    Yep, that's what sometimes happens. You have a choice in those cases in which greater historical accuracy yields a more realistic feel to the writing: You can take the time out to research the particular item you need (this will take more time the first time you do it, and less time each subsequent time as you get more used to using Google and the resulting sites. Sometimes, you will get several hits with each one leading to a whole tree of sites, and other times you'll come up empty or nearly so), or you can "just make stuff up". How real do you want it to feel? My own choice is usually to do the research, because I want what I write to be as authentic to the reader as I can make it.

    This is why I find it's very helpful to have a very thorough understanding of what I want to write, because that tells me how much I have to research and what I need to research, and I try to do most if it before I actually begin to write. However, additional questions will arise, and I find I have to be prepared to go after the answers. Each project presents its own challenges.

    But remember, the last thing you'd want is for someone to read what you've written and blurt, "That couldn't possibly happen!"

    Good luck.
  6. sharonwagoner

    sharonwagoner New Member

    Oct 21, 2012
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    I took a college course on the history of technology. It was my favorite course ever.

    A piece of iron or iron pyrite struck rapidly with a chunk of flint was the main way of striking a spark 1,000 years ago. Later steel replaced the iron. Tinder boxes or strike-a-light were used until the mid 1800's, when inexpensive matches were finally available. There were expensive and dangerous matches as early as the 1600's, after the discovery of phosphorous. The spark was struck onto dry tinder (linen, dry leaves, dry moss, scorched rags) and was coaxed into flame by blowing on it. People often scraped their knuckles while striking a spark.

    Pancakes are a safe bet for breakfast. Humans have been making them, under various names, since we settled down and started to farm. The hot tasty quick bread is a great way to use milk and eggs. The term flap jack was used by Shakespeare.
  7. Wickedstorm

    Wickedstorm New Member

    Nov 15, 2012
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    New Orleans, LA
    I find doing research to be part of the fun of writing for me, but that's not what your asking. However if you are trying to be historically accurate, such as lighting cigar, you might want to see when tobacco came into use as well.

    Tobacco has a long history in the Americas. The Mayan Indians of Mexico carved drawings in stone showing tobacco use. These drawings date back to somewhere between 600 to 900 A.D. Tobacco was grown by American Indians before the Europeans came from England, Spain, France, and Italy to North America. Native Americans smoked tobacco through a pipe for special religious and medical purposes. They did not smoke every day.

    Tobacco was the first crop grown for money in North America. In 1612 the settlers of the first American colony in Jamestown, Virginia grew tobacco as a cash crop. It was their main source of money. Other cash crops were corn, cotton, wheat, sugar, and soya beans. Tobacco helped pay for the American Revolution against England. Also, the first President of the U.S. grew tobacco.

    By the 1800's, many people had begun using small amounts of tobacco. Some chewed it. Others smoked it occasionally in a pipe, or they hand-rolled a cigarette or cigar. On the average, people smoked about 40 cigarettes a year. The first commercial cigarettes were made in 1865 by Washington Duke on his 300-acre farm in Raleigh, North Carolina. His hand-rolled cigarettes were sold to soldiers at the end of the Civil War.

    So by finding that out you would find that the use of cigars and stuff really didn't present itself until the 1600's Which gives you an idea of when you would have to verify the use of matches and other such things. Most cultures that used pipes use a piece of wood that had a red hot top to it to light there pipes. So one could assumes something might be similar used before the invention of matches.

    Google is a good tool. one of the methods I use to get the best returns on my searches is asking Google a question instead of use search terms.

    I searched "when did tobacco first come into use?" to get the details for tobacco, i do that a lot actually and gets me some of my best results quickly.

    Other peoples suggestion of just writing the scene without worry about the details first is a good idea. I use the highlight feature on MSword to let me know where I was certain on details. Also adding to many details sometimes waters down the plot. Make sure the details are important.

    also keep in mind most ancient cultures until the copper age, didn't have pots and pans. They used stones that they would heat up, or they would make grills or spits or things of that nature. Well that's is what I can offer for suggestions and help.
  8. Salamander

    Salamander New Member

    Jan 18, 2013
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    Or make up your own history. Doesn't have to be magical. Instead of a lighter, a firestriker device with two small flint rocks to light your death-stick of choice. Don't get bogged down. If lighting a cigar is absolutely crucial to your scene, find a way to do it better later. Focus on finishing first. Save major revisions based on flow for the rewrites.

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