A Conversation for Writing Right with Dmitri: When in the Woods...

How much research?

Post 1


How much research do you need to do?

That's obviously going to depend on where and when your story is set. You might think it's relatively safe to write about the not-too-distant past - like the sixties for those of us smiley - senior enough to remember. But I suspect that you would still need to do your checks, because there are enough people around to say 'that make of car didn't come in until 1970', or whatever.

It may depend on how important the detail is to your plot. Readers may forgive minor errors but if, say, your action takes place in a building that wasn't actually around at the time, it destroys that suspension of disbelief in which the reader engages.

Have you read Rose Tremain's 'Music and Silence'? I thought it was a brilliant book - a multi-strand story set in the Denmark of King Christian IV. Rose Tremain must have done masses of research - about the history of the period, the houses, the clothes, the manners etc. But one of our heroes, a lutenist, appears to be going deaf, but it turns out that his deafness is caused by an earwig burrowing into his ear. This detail rather spoilt it for me because it's a myth that earwigs can burrow into ears.

So, I suppose the moral is to check anything that can actually affect the plot.

How much research?

Post 2

Dmitri Gheorgheni, Post Editor

I think that's a good point. smiley - smiley Some details are more important than others - like earwigs in your ear.

Last night, we watched a film called 'Royal Deceit', with a young Christian Bale, Gabriel Byrne, and Helen Mirren. It was really good, I recommend it. The film told the story of the Ur-Hamlet - the story of Prince Amled, from Saxo Grammaticus' history of the Danes.

It's wonderful - you kept having these 'aha' moments. All the things about Hamlet that didn't make sense...suddenly did. smiley - rofl As soon as you realised it was a story about a small settlement of Jutland farmers in the 6th Century. I know that period and its ethos. Amled's actions were perfectly correct. (Oh, and he was more successful than the Shakespeare character.)

Talking about getting your research right: there's a US series called 'Mad Men'. It concerns the advertising industry in New York City in the 1960s. The amount of research they do is amazing. Just about every time you think, 'Now wait, did that happen?', it turns out it did. smiley - smiley

You brought up another good point: The reader. If you're knowledgeable about a subject (earwigs, for example), you're going to be more critical.

How much research?

Post 3


I don't suppose Shakespeare did much research in the sense you and I mean it. No hours in the British Library, or on the internet. smiley - laugh

But I don't suppose the groundlings were knowledgeable enough to ask awkward questions.

How much research?

Post 4

Dmitri Gheorgheni, Post Editor

That opens a whole 'nother smiley - canofworms. The question of who Shakespeare was, and who he was writing for. That controversy has spawned so many papers, books, etc...touchy subject for some.

Whoever he was, you're right - he didn't do much research. I think the standard works he consulted are pretty well known.

When reading his history plays, you also have to keep in mind a completely different source of error: propaganda. Think about it: King John and Richard III get really bad press, which we now know is unfair. Henry V is pure 'rah-rah', and full of anachronistic attitudes. smiley - laugh

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