Research and the Art of Enough

I was mugged last week by a story. It’s definitely one of mine, I knew that from the beginning. What I wasn’t sure of, at first, was where it fit into my plans. I have plans, darn-it, and… oh.. ok. The light finally dawned.  This is the third book I’d planned to write in the follow-on series set in the world created around Lom and Bella, but not using them as characters. The three books were loosely connected, so I can write this one first without upsetting the applecart, and I’m rather looking forward to it, as it’s loud in my head and vivid and everything a story ought to be, complete with plot. Well, ok, it’s not a whole plot. But it is enough of one that I can see where the rest will come into being, and I’m not pushing it. I have a long way to write before I need to have all the plot.

One of the disadvantages of being a pantser is that if I did push and get all the plot neatly set up and outlined, is that I would likely lose the story. So I very carefully don’t push. But I can see enough of the plot to know that it’s time to research. With the Pixie books, since I wanted that Noir feeling, I read a lot of noir classics. With this book, the main character firmly doesn’t believe in magic and is likely to quell any attempts at woo-woo in her presence with a raised eyebrow. She does, however, have a background of being raised by a Yupik great-great-grandmother who is sister to a certain gray-eyed, black-haired man.

Which means that, as an author, I need to do some research. Chances are that there won’t be a whole lot of Yupik, Inuit, and Ainu mythos in this book. There will be Siberian history, and more Russian fairytales, including a reappearance of Baba Yaga. So in my off-time I am reading. The history of Siberia is fascinating, I’ve gotten through an overview of it already, curled up in bed under the covers because my body remembers what real cold is like, and objects to my thinking about it too much. I’ve gotten several books which may be useful, and I will get through them as quickly as possible to digest the information.

Because the key to research is knowing what you need, and what you don’t. In fiction, particularly, readers are simply not reading for an essay. They want a story, which means pacing, and action, and not too many slow-down and insert a story (meta-story, a story within a story?) parts. My brain might be packed full of dates (The Russians sent a guy to conquer Siberia in 1585, ending the long rule of the Mongols over that area) and facts (the Yasak was a very unpopular fur-tax, since fur was the major industry of Northern Siberia, but it was only levied on non-Russian Orthodox people). Readers don’t want those, unless they have a direct bearing on the story (neither of my examples do) and eventually you bury the poor things in parentheses until they can never find their way out (and that always ends badly).

With fiction, unlike a research paper, you don’t need to be terribly accurate (unless you’re writing a Historical (stoppit with the parentheticals already! (sorry))) and you can weave the old tales and history into your created world to lend it verisimilitude. But it need not be paragraphs at a time. A sentence, here or there, a word of explanation in a dialogue, and a description comparing something familiar to the reader, that is sufficient. I think one of the highest compliments I’ve gotten was a father writing a review of Vulcan’s Kittens for his daughter and explaining that she kept stopping in her reading to look up unfamiliar names, but that she loved the story. This, this is what I want to hear about my YA. I don’t want it as much for the grown-ups, though. I want my reader to stay in the story to the end, not to have to stop and check some fact or other. This means that if popular perception of say, Koschei the Deathless is as a villain, I should not suddenly write him as a misunderstood hero. And it might be difficult for me to convey the duality of Baba Yaga’s character, in that she cooks and eats people, but she was also a protector of the innocent maiden.

But I have a character in the back of my mind stamping her feet as she pretends to do something else and waits for my attention to come back to her. So I’m off to writing again!


6 responses to “Research and the Art of Enough”

  1. Please not Baba Yaga. That witch scares me!

    1. I take it you haven’t read Trickster Noir 😀

  2. I’m knee-deep (pile two Peter Massie books on top of each other and see how thick they are) in Russian history and culture as well. The plot, in general, I know already in these cases, but the flavor of the time is what I’m struggling with. I’m used to Russia before the Mongols, or after 1900. Filling in the sense of the time in between is challenging me and my research skills.

    1. When I decided I needed to learn more about Siberia I also knew it would be a challenge to find something more-or-less unbiased, and more than that, something I wouldn’t pay textbook prices for. I’ve got some interesting old books that are past copyright and will give me (I hope) what I need, and KU is a big help in this respect.

  3. Reality Observer Avatar
    Reality Observer

    Sigh. I envy the both of you, being a history geek myself (one of my many geek faces (sorry ’bout that (really))).

    I was sorely tempted to start writing historical fiction, then realized that I’d start my research – and come up for air sometime around two years from now…

    BTW, Cedar – the pepper steak recipe was fantastic! That was my offering to the family tonight. Did you do it with a light soy, though? The color of your photo seemed to look more like usukuchi was used, but I had only regular dark koikuchi in the pantry. I think I’ll try it with the light next time, and reduce the liquid measures (and reduce the ginger, and increase the peppers, like First Reader). In any case, thank you and Anita Young.

    1. I used dark soy sauce, I don’t have anything nice in the cupboard right now as my last bottle was a quick grab at the supermarket. Glad you liked it!