Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guest blogger: Jannine Corti-Petska-- Research: How Much is too much?

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I write historical romance novels and do considerable research. Sometimes I find exactly what I need. Other times, I’m stumped.

When I began writing 30 years ago, my option for research was limited to the local library. One of the most exciting aspects of writing (for me) was perusing the shelves and finding books appropriate for my wip. The smell of libraries and used book stores kicks my adrenaline into high gear. At times, the anticipation was overwhelming. I was like a kid in the candy shop, all those books being my candy.

Fast forward to present day, and I’m sad to say I rarely go into a library anymore. Almost everything I need is on the internet. Does that mean I rely only on searching the web? Not at all! For one reason, the facts can be unreliable. How do you know if the author of the article(s) is an expert in the field he’s written about? I check out the sources and compare. But I will never give up the feel of paper in my hands or the little crunching sounds of the spine when I open an old book. Come into my office and you’ll see the truth. I have over 2000 research books in there.

I’m the type of person who goes overboard with research. That’s because when I find one thing I’m looking for, sometimes it leads me to an interesting fact or tidbit I can use in a completely different story. Never ignore or throw away those snippets of information. I even cut out articles from the newspaper and stick them in a folder—not on the computer but in a real paper folder, lol—I labeled Tidbits for Story Ideas. The folder is bloated now. I swear I’ve become a hoarder. I can’t throw anything away! And yes, I have dipped my hand into this folder for story ideas, especially if a tidbit really intrigues me and languishes in my mind. Some of the information is stranger than reality.

I will admit, over-researching is time-consuming. It has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is what I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Finding certain information I hadn’t thought about but will use in another wip. The disadvantages? It takes me about 3 months to research a book (30 years ago it was one month. Darn age slowed me down.). I’d also do research while I wrote. Chances are, 85% of the material will go unused. But that 85% could take root in another story.

If I am not familiar with an era or genre, I will have 30-50 manila folders of research material. For example, the third book in my Sisters of Destiny trilogy will be set in medieval England, which intimidates me in a big way. This book should have been written in the spring of 2010. The damn insecurities of tackling this particular time and setting kept me seeking out so much research that I am now inundated. To clear my head of the clutter and confusion, I decided to write what I’m comfortable with—that would be book 4 of my Italian Medieval Series. I probably have 15-20 folders for each book in that series. A big difference. I’ll tackle the end of the trilogy next year. Sorry, folks. If you happen to be waiting for the final book in the trilogy, you’ll have a long wait.

There is no magic key to unlocking the secrets of the amount of research that’s necessary. Another writer may need only a handful of information to begin writing. Doing research for historical fiction is as subjective as what you like and don’t like to read. So in answer to my question: No, you can never do enough research. But you have to know when to stop. Now that’s something I haven’t figured out yet.

Jannine's books:

Her gambler father murdered, Rachel Garrett joins a wagon train west to be with her aunt and the fiancé she's never met. Her dream is to forget the life she led performing on stage to earn the money her father gambled away and settle down in one place. But along the trail, she is helplessly drawn to a priest--forbidden fruit--and her hopes are shattered.

Professional gambler Reno Hunter is wanted for the murder of James Garrett. His disguise as a priest on a wagon train is foolproof, until he discovers the woman the old gambler wagered in that fatal card game and Rachel Garrett are one and the same. Can he protect his identity and his heart, or will he surrender to his desire for Rachel and risk being apprehended by the law?

The Wild Rose Press


book 2, The Sisters of Destiny Trilogy

Charlotte Nikolos was raised in a Gypsy camp, her pale hair and light skin in stark contrast from the darkness of her family. After she learns she has two sisters somewhere who share her looks and psychic powers, she's determined to search for them and learn why her birth mother sent her away. But where does she begin?

After three years of roaming, Rafael Cazares returns to his Andalusian Gypsy camp to pursue the woman he left behind in disgrace. He must win back Char's trust and recapture her heart. He insists on helping her find her true family but soon realizes someone is determined to keep them apart. When Rafael's deep, dark secret is revealed, he will do everything in his power to protect the only woman he has ever loved. Even if it costs him his life.

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  1. HI Jannine - Interesting topic! My opinion, you can't do 'too much' rsearch. But you can write too much of your research into the story.
    That is where you've got to maintain a delicate balance between necessary information and showing off how much you know!
    Loved your post.


  2. Jannine, I love research as well. But you still take the cake. lol I think research is extremely necessary when writing a historical. Although I don't want my story to be a history lesson, there is no other way to get the reader into the story unless they can feel they're there - and the only way they can feel that is if the writer has researched the era well enough to add details to their story. So research is VERY important to me!

    Great subject!


  3. Jannine, What a great blog. Research can give you a lot, but not everything. I use my travel experiences in my writing. I learned (the hard way) that although you can research a location, what is available in books and on the internet may be dated, incorrect, conflicting, and incomplete. Much of what you need is simply not available. To allow the reader to really experience the venue (as Marie Higgins put it, to feel they're there), requires the author to have experienced first hand the feel and smell of the place, the textures and rhythm. The heartbeat, so to speak. There is no substitute. However, that's a little hard when you're writing historicals unless you have a time machine)

  4. Jannine, I face the same dilemma. Research is often just too much fun to stop! But if your book begins reading like a history lesson, that's no good, either. You strike a perfect balance in your books, IMO.

  5. Great article, Jannine!
    Researching is one of my favorite parts of the process!
    Thank you for sharing a part of your day with us!
    Annie Marshall/Isobel Hardin

  6. Kate, I agree. It's how you use all that reasearch.

    Thanks for commenting!

  7. You're absolutely right, Marie. An author, especially a historical author, has to get the reader invested in the story. Capturing the era of the story will definitely do that.

    Thanks, Marie.

  8. LOL, Ann. A time machine would be great for a historical writer. What better way to really capture the era?

    Thanks for commenting.

  9. Miriam, how nice of you to say that about my writing.

    There is a fine line between weaving a story, making the readers feel as if they're there, and making them think they bought a history book.


  10. I so agree with you. I miss that library. The little drawer full of Dewey Decimal system numbers that just made my thrill that much greater when I found what I needed amongst those tall, soundless, musty, shelves of books. I miss it...

  11. Annie, lol. I was wondering who Isobel Hardin was. I'm soooo glad you also included your name.

    Most historical, as well as contemporary, authors I talk to love the researching process. It's amazing what you can find.

    Thanks, Annie.

  12. I love history and find so many interesting stories in bygone years. We live where the 1849 gold rush happened so getting the history is fairly easy because it thrives all around us. The goldmine museum, stagecoaches, old buildings, etc. are mine for the photo taking. I have gotten lazy and don't do as much investigating as before, but I have a lot on hand to pull from.

  13. Mary, lol, I doubt the kids in school today know what a Dewey Decimal System is. I think half the fun was "hunting" for books in the library.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Paisley, you're lucky to live close to history. I envy people living in Europe because every where they go, history surrounds them.

    Thanks for being here.

  15. Some good advice here, Jannine. I don't know how you manage all those folders, though. I think I would get lost. But I have to agree with you. I find research fascinating and fun.

  16. If it's any consolation, I don't think there is such a thing as too much research. I do, however, agree it can bog you down.

    I write in the latter 15th Century, but much of what happens there has roots back as far as Henry II. Knowing this and how they all connect means writing with confidence when I sit to the keyboard. I can take the reader there without difficulty because it is as familiar to me as my office.

    So research away. It can't hurt. Just don't get so involved in it you can't resist adding tidbits that will have your CP saying (as mine does), "The reader doesn't need to know that!"