Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"How much research do you do?"

This is a question I get asked a lot when people find out I write historical romances. I've already blogged about it once, but there's another point I feel I should make, one that follows hard on the heels of a comment that usually follows such a question: "I love historical romances but the thought of doing all that research....!" The ending is often left unsaid, but I think it's fairly obvious. The thought of doing research is not appealing.

And that, my friends, is what separates the folks who should write historical romances from the folks who shouldn't.

I think it would be safe to say that for most writers of historical romance, research isn't some dull chore grudgingly undertaken, some boring place we have to drive through to get to our destination. We research because we like it. For us, research is a scenic journey through vistas we may or may not use in our work. Heck, we even love the detours, because sometimes they can be the most rewarding of all, whether they allow us to better understand the time period and the people who lived in it, or provide a "telling detail" for a description, or the basis of a new character, perhaps even a new book.

We write historicals not in spite of the research, but because of the research. For us, spending hours reading about, say, Elizabethan medical practices, is fascinating, interesting and exciting, even if we only get to use a fraction of what we learn, or maybe none of it at all.

But if the thought of spending time on such an endeavor sounds beyond boring? Then no, you probably shouldn't consider writing historical romances, even if you like reading them. Enjoy the finished book and leave the research to us.


Amy Ruttan said...

I'm going to steal your answer from Saturday, I do "enough" research, and you're right it's not a chore for me it's a trip to a place that is no longer there and that's why I read and write historicals. I know I could not write a contemporary, suspense or medical romance. Give me a setting in the past and I am happy. I do read contemporaries, suspense (not medical, I can't even watch Grey's Anatomy or House), but my flights of fancy are always in the past. What drives my husband crazy is the endless amount of facts I seem to blurt out at weird moments. All thanks to research :)

Margaret Moore said...

I can't watch medical shows, either -- I worry I've got whatever it is they're dealing with, or will get it. And I hear ya on the facts that just sort of linger in the mind. But that's part of the fun, right? :-)

Christine said...

I love historicals as a reader, but as I writer I can't do it. It's not that I'm lazy, but I'm paranoid that I'm going to make a mistake. I'd much rather create my own rules in a world that I create and control. It gives me a lot more freedom.

That said, there's nothing I enjoy more than a good historical romance.

Margaret Moore said...

Christine, your comment makes me sad. I hate to hear of any writer paralysed by the fear of making a mistake. I do my very best to be accurate, but I appreciate there are always going to be people who know more about a time period than I do, and I may make mistakes. The risk, however, does not outweigh the reward of writing what I love.

So if you love historicals and have some ideas brewing, I hope you'll at least give one a go. If you have a ball writing it, I say, write it. If you find other problems creeping in (such as what I'd call plot stagnation -- you get so far and then no ideas come along to keep the story going) THEN you might want to reconsider.

Lesley Luke said...

I'm jumping into this conversation late, but I was also at your course that Saturday. And your post about research really hit home. Especially since a fellow writer keeps telling me to 'stop researching.' But I can't get through to her that I love reading. I usually have at least one non-fiction going at anytime in addition to the novels.

By the way, your workshop so inspired me I've made a pledge to myself to send that manuscript out. I've joined the Romance Writers of American, I've sent in my application to the Toronto Romance Writers, and since your course, I've written nearly 35,000 words. Thanks, Margaret!