So usually I write light scifi, or present day, urban fantasy and neither genre requires much in the way of needing research. I think I had to look up 3 science/space facts while writing Fluctuations. You can make all your shit up and really, that appeals to me in a major way. Yes, I am lazy in that one aspect of writing. Because if I have to slog away at a 114k word novel and keep a strict eye on plots, characters (my novels are almost always ensemble casts), action, emotion, nuance (hopefully), and red herrings, the last thing I want to do is research on top of all that.
And yet… two years ago I wrote a short story for a charity anthology that took place in Victorian England. I figured it was a steampunk, m/m short with wizards and magic, so really, who needed to research for something under 5k words? Okay, I did do some so I could get the general feel, but I figured my endless BBC watching pretty much took care of most of my needs. And it did… for the short story.
Last year, I decided to write the sequel to the short, but as a novel and that, my friends, is where the headache began. For a novel, watching the BBC just wasn’t going to cut it. The problem was that I didn’t know what I needed to know! A starting point is always good to have and Victorian England is a pretty massive subject. I was torn between checking out tons of books from the library and reading everything on the period or just jumping in and researching online and making notes on what I needed to learn as I went.
(Yeah, you all see where this is going…)
In I jumped!
I did enlist a friend to assist with certain searches, which helped, but for about 85% of the novel, I mined the internet as I wrote. Victorian weddings. Victorian food. Victorian language. Victorian slang. Victorian prisons. Victorian hospitals and medical care (or the lack thereof). Victorian London (maps! omg the MAPS!). Honest to god, before I was halfway done, I was so sick of Victorian London that I almost scrapped it all and changed it to take place in the Wild West! At least that era I know from history class and the language barrier (yes, English and American English, are very different things despite the original base language) doesn’t work against me.
When you hit that strong a point of frustration, it’s a good idea to put it aside for a while. Not for the six or so months that I did, but you know. A short while. Fortunately, the characters are so awesome to me that they wouldn’t shut up during those six months. It was with a sense of resigned inevitability that I opened up the files and began writing on it again.
And this is where the good news comes in. At some point in your research, you become saturated with the information. It’s no longer research, but refreshing your memory about the details. You’ve already got the gist because it’s been internalized. And future sequels or other novels in the same time period become so much easier! Or, so I anticipate. ;o)
Sending it out to betas after my initial edit of the first, complete draft will be the real test, but I’m pretty hopeful that I got it right. And if I didn’t, well, it’s not like the internet is going anywhere. (Yet, but don’t get me started on that, it’s a whole different post! ;o))
The moral of this story is: don’t let the daunting task of research stop you from writing something that piques your interest! If you have characters or a story idea that you love in a setting you know nothing about, go for it. It might be frustrating, but in the end it’s damn rewarding.