Someone asked me a few days ago ‘Do you do much research for your books?’
Probably about 2-3 books full for each one I write, if I was to write it all down. Unless you’re quite mathematically challenged or believe books to be some kind of multi-dimensional portmanteau (which yes, some of them are. They take headspace from readers, which can add many dimensions) it’s fairly obvious that the point of research is to leave it out (but to get the setting, the background the underpinning right).
Then of course if your book is a straight story all you have to do is tell it, right?
For me the answer is a big no, probably because I couldn’t just tell a straight story to save my life. I’m such a plonker. You see all the other parts are important to me. Take the Heirs of Alexandria books – SHADOW OF THE LION et al. They’re Alternate History meets fantasy, and so the geography, the food, the people, the belief systems all have to be researched, and sometimes taken to their logical extension point. Then the characters (who are in some cases based on real historical figures. Only the names (and sometimes dates) have been changed to protect the guilty have to be researched, developed, dialogue sections so I can get a feel for them (there is a character sketch, with everything from hair color to emotional stability, likes, dislikes, favorite words and phrases. Yes. I am anal. Call me an arse. Just don’t scratch me). The layers get built, knowing the end point (possible) and the underlying setting… and in the case of these books the mythological tie in (each of the books is 1) A story; 2)Alternate History. It’s like a vast 3 d chess game, taking Occam’s razor and logic and possibilities.. If they did that back there, what would the situation be like here. What color are the carrots? What do people eat? who rules, what religions are there and how do they work? 3)a myth-retelling which has to fit in, usually blending several mythologies to achieve a ‘desired and logical’ outcome. I know Misty did some adding at the end of the last one and I haven’t been able to bear to read it, as I know she just doesn’t have the background reading to make it fit properly. Sigh. I’ll have to cope soon 4)A show-not-tell on my ideas on socio-politics (The Republic of Venice was a fascinating canvas, with similarities to and differences from to the US and UK.) 5)a supply in jokes, plays on names which are as necessary I suppose as gilding on a pig. But I like them.) and then I write an outline.
And then I write the the book trying to blend these and the characters do what they would do, and screw everything up.
Right now I am wrestling with the unification of Italy, putting Garibaldi out of a job a few centuries on. Trying to find the right mythos. Trying not to get too distracted by one of the other 5 projects bobbing around…
Of course you don’t have to do this. You can wing it. Some people do, very successfully. I’m just not one of them.