From the Archives: A Journal of Two Writers – Research, Part I: Just the Facts, Ma’am

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Welcome to our new feature, Throwback Thursday – From the Archives.  This part of the series features content created for a now defunct publisher, and I’m making it available for you to enjoy here.  Happy reading!

Happy Thursday!  Today I’ll be talking about a topic that’s near and dear to both our hearts, research.  Even though we write fiction, research and fact-finding are integral parts of what we do because, in order to create plausible worlds, we have to have enough of the facts “right” so that readers trust us when we start to fabricate reality.

Throughout the day, I’ll post how-to’s, ideas, pictures, and a cautionary – but funny – tale.   I hope you’ll join me.

First up, the facts.  How do you find ’em, and once you find ’em, how do you include them in your story?

Let’s do a little bit of talking about the how’s, and then I’ll let you give it a try.

So.  First.  How?  In our book Emerald Fire, we created a totally fabricated world called Persis.  We wanted it to feel real, plausible, like a planet that we reasonably would have settled and whose culture grew organically from the socio-political climate involved.

When you read it, though, you aren’t inundated with all that bla-bla.  We know it, but we don’t necessarily have to tell it all at once:  and there, in a nutshell, is how to do research in a story.  You do all the research in advance, or while you’re writing, but you don’t dump all the facts in a pile at the readers’ feet – you parcel them out sparingly, like a good spice in a dish.  No one would just eat a spoonful of cinnamon, but put it in cookie batter and yum – spice cookies!

We knew we wanted to create a world, simply put, of desert sheikhs and harem boys.  It’s a common trope in classical romance:  the wealthy sultan and his many harem girls, who find love amidst the clash of cultures and … etc.  So.  How do we do that on another world, in a way that makes sense for M/M romance?

We based our culture on a blend of Middle Eastern, Asian, and American influences.  The two main cities are named after the greatest rulers of Classical Persia, Cyrus and Darius.  The later city, Reghdad, is purely made-up but based on Baghdad, which was a rival culture to the Persians, the Mesopotamians).  We studied several different cultures and decided to use Persia because it was a great classical empire and therefore, plausible that future people from Earth would be nostalgic and name their cities for it.

We also studied astronomy and figured out whether a dual star system would work, and what color the sky would be on a planet with no standing water.  We studied a bit of geology to make the mining plausible.

It’s not like we did ALL of this up front.  We took what we already knew, (for example, my neighbor growing up panned for gold and had a sluice, so I got to see that process first-hand), and added things we learned to synthesize unique environments.  You’ve probably heard that old adage, “use what you know,” and this is one way to do that.

One example of not throwing all the facts into the hopper for the reader, but parceling them out slowly, is in the founding cities’ names.  That doesn’t factor into the plot of Emerald Fire at all, so it’s not something we bring up.  It will factor into later books, so we’ll reveal it as we go along.  On the other hand, the mining is key for Emerald Fire so we go into a lot of detail – but taking care to show the reader, and not dump all the data there to tell the reader.

That is the second tidbit:  when you’re giving the reader information, show them the things you want them to know, through the eyes of your point-of-view character – i.e., the one who is telling the story.  In the Harry Potter stories, for example, Harry Potter himself is the point-of-view character.  Through him, we see Dumbledore and watch our understanding of him mature with Harry from the adoration of a young boy to the respect of a young man.

So now, it’s your turn.  This prompt is called “Listing.”  Get a pen and paper (it’s better to do by hand) and list everything in your bedroom (or, if you’re currently in your bedroom, list things in your office or living room).  Imagine you’re standing in the doorway and go left to right, around the room, listing everything you see.  Don’t forget to look up and down.  Allow five minutes for this exercise.

Next, take 3 things from your list and write a three-paragraph description of a character named Bob walking into the room for the first time.  He can be there as your guest, your lover, a thief, or a police officer – use your imagination (or do one of each).  If you’d like, share your paragraphs with me in the comments.


Originally published on the Torquere Press LiveJournal, 07/26/2012

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