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Research and characterization question

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Matt Phillips
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Research and characterization question

Postby Matt Phillips » Thu July 29th, 2010, 5:40 pm

Thought this one might be a good question to toss out to the group. Having done a lot of research and writing academically and for my career, I've felt at home doing most of the research for my WIP. I understand how to use the research on actual events, people, daily life and places in the description of setting and action. When writing scenes, it seems pretty straightforward to me to refer to notes and sources to pull in the appropriate specific facts.

But what I'm wondering about is characterization, and research about people's way of thinking and feeling as opposed to the hard facts of history. I've done a fair amount of research on the culture, psychology and worldview of people in this time and place and am reading primary sources to get a flavor for their thoughts and language. Is there a process or method any of you use to make sure the dialogue, thoughts and motivations of your characters stay appropriate to the time? Or is it something that ideally should emerge automatically as you write, if you've done the right research? Or is it something you address in the revision phase, reading your manuscript with a particular eye toward the authenticity of language and emotion?

Thanks for any feedback!

Celia Hayes
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Location: San Antonio, Texas
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Postby Celia Hayes » Sat July 31st, 2010, 10:21 pm

I don't know how this would work for your particular period, but I write about the American frontier, in the 19th century - and what works for me, to get into the 19th century feeling, is to read contemporary works - letters, memoirs, traveler's accounts, novels ... Mark Twain is beyond price for getting a feel about how genuine frontiersmen may have talked.
It's a bit like an actor picking up an accent, I think - after a through immersion in a particular voice and mind-set, I find that I can write it very convincingly.
YMMV, of course.
Celia Hayes
www.celiahayes.com

Russ Whitfield
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Location: Richmond, Surrey
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Postby Russ Whitfield » Fri August 27th, 2010, 9:37 am

I think research should be like a bad case of silent farting. Your work should reek of it but you can't be too blatant cos you'll end up offending people.

I reckon that if you're really steeped in the history, it'll come through in the writing...you know in your characters attitudes and stuff like that. In the case of ...say...a frontier family in the American West, I'm sure they wouldn't have the almost reverential attitude we have today for American Indian culture for instance.

Its always a toughie though: I was reading some comments by an author who spoke about "the would-be savants." No matter how much you research there's always someone out there who'll tell you you've got it totally wrong even when you know you haven't!

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri August 27th, 2010, 2:30 pm

re-enactment. It gives you a feeling no amount of book-larnin' will. Yes, at times it's cheesy and OTT, but do it long enough and some parts will become second nature.

You're lucky that there are several groups doing your period/place. If you were writing, say, Genghis Khan, you'd be out of luck.

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Fri August 27th, 2010, 3:11 pm

"Russ Whitfield" wrote:I think research should be like a bad case of silent farting. Your work should reek of it but you can't be too blatant cos you'll end up offending people.



What a disgusting analogy.

Russ Whitfield
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Location: Richmond, Surrey
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Postby Russ Whitfield » Fri August 27th, 2010, 3:33 pm

"Michy" wrote:What a disgusting analogy.


Works though, don't it. ;)

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Ken
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Location: Truro, Cornwall, UK

Postby Ken » Fri August 27th, 2010, 4:42 pm

"Russ Whitfield" wrote:Works though, don't it. ;)


No, actually - it doesn't!

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Matt Phillips
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Postby Matt Phillips » Fri August 27th, 2010, 7:03 pm

"Ken" wrote:No, actually - it doesn't!



Maybe a better one would be a crackling fire in the fireplace? A good one should be strong enough for the pleasant aroma and background sounds to fill the room, but not rage out of control and burn the house down.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone! MLE - I definitely agree about living history and have done a few workshops; I will continue doing so, since I'm fortunate enough to have a couple of living history colonial farms in my area, and hopefully attending and participating in their events will help me give a sense of authenticity to my writing.

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michellemoran
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Postby michellemoran » Fri August 27th, 2010, 8:55 pm

Its always a toughie though: I was reading some comments by an author who spoke about "the would-be savants." No matter how much you research there's always someone out there who'll tell you you've got it totally wrong even when you know you haven't!


Russ, this is true. Readers have pointed out flaws in my novels - sometimes, they've been right, other times, they're wrong (although they're very much convinced otherwise!). As for time-appropriate characterization, I find that with my writing, this comes not only from the setting, but even importantly, the events. How did the character historically react to a specific event? It tells us a lot about them.
Visit MichelleMoran.com
Check out Michelle's blog History Buff at michellemoran.blogspot.com

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Miss Moppet
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Location: North London
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Postby Miss Moppet » Fri August 27th, 2010, 9:59 pm

ROFL at this thread. Yes, maybe my avatar has that startled expression because she just smelled some 'research' in the room.

I like Matt's fire analogy. Much better than the stupid old iceberg quote.


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