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Living the Research

Discussion in 'Research' started by SeverinR, Oct 11, 2016.

  1. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    I found my old website and thought I would use it to encourage living the research. (I think I have posted something like this in the past, but I didn't post the website.)
    Nothing will inspire you more then going out and experiencing the research, not just read about it.

    Severin Rheiners former life, AKA Severin Rheinfelser. This site I built when I was an equestrian in the SCA.

    Life and times of Severin Rheinfelser

    There is no comparison to actually tilting a quintain, throwing a spear from a galloping horse, riding a horse on a trail or wagon train for several hours, riding in total darkness. Seeing a small group of men charge another group and the smash of swords and shields, the battle cries. Seeing the pain, fatigue and sweat after the fight.
    Seeing the ladies caring for their fighting men. Or simply walking through a market place of people dressed in period, speaking in period, merchants offering goods in tents that are mostly period.

    Research often, but always look for a way to experience the research, you won't have to guess how it feels, you can feel it, smell it, touch it, taste it. When you live it, it is so much more real then reading about it on a page or on a website. If you live it, it can ad so much more to your description of the occurrence.
     
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  2. mulierrex

    mulierrex Scribe

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    This is virtually impossible for so many people. Money and time are not things everyone has; in fact, I'd say a good deal of the members on this website have no money or time to dedicate to such things. I think it's unfair to insist or encourage this, or make it seem "better" than reading or researching. And after all not everything can be lived. If I want to write a birth scene, I'm not about to go have a baby or find some random person to watch giving birth.
     
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  3. It's a really nice idea, living your research. Experience can teach you in ways that reading, watching and listening alone cannot.

    I think that it's just as (if not more) important to think of ways you can use your own experiences to fuel your writing. As mulierrex pointed out, lots of us don't have the time or money to experience everything our characters go through...and that's ok. That's totally ok. I talked about this on a thread I posted not too long ago; do you have to have an experience yourself in order to write about it? I think not. But, you can use what you do know. And, you can make the most of experiences when you do have them. Keep your ears, eyes, mind and heart open at all times; be an attentive student of the world and life.

    I'd say look for opportunities to experience your writing, but also look for new experiences in general. They could have a great impact on your writing, make it deeper and more mature.

    Totally agreed about childbirth. I have no desire to see it or experience it, and even for the sake of my writing I think it prudent to wing it in that case...
     
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  4. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    Childbirth: BTDT two daughters and Grandson and Granddaughter. Wouldn't recommend even asking someone to watch. lol.

    I agree, most people don't have the money to buy and or care for a horse. But there are many ways to live the research.
    Never stop looking for anything that will give you experiences you can write about.

    We write from the perspective that we know and have lived. If we don't push ourselves to seek more, we will write from a safe and isolated perspective. While if we go out we can write from a perspective closer to the real thing.
     
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  5. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I honestly thought that being a fantasy writer meant exactly this. A lifetime of adventures and experiences to work into your writing.

    That said, you don't need to own a horse, or take up fencing or HEMA or skydiving if you want to write about it. You would be amazed at how far a pitcher of beer and a basket of wings goes once you meet someone who has the experience you need. Everybody has stories to tell.
     
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  6. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Adding, also, that Google doesn't do it. YouTube doesn't do it. Surfing blogs doesn't do it. That's one angle of research, but it's not enough.

    Your readers aren't watching a movie. There's more to the story than actions and dialogue. The small details sell it. And you'll never, ever, ever, get your small details correct unless you go see for yourself.

    The taste in your mouth for hours after visiting an artisanal blacksmith's forge, the consistency of a pile of horseshit when you step in it on a hot day, or the way your ears ring and your eyes water after getting hit in the helmet really hard. These things, and a hundred other things, you'll have to experience -- or you'll need to skillfully dig these experiences out of someone else who's had them -- in order to even know that they exist, much less to describe them accurately. And you need to describe them accurately in order to create the suspension of disbelief that allows you to introduce the magical elements into your story and make them believable, as well.

    Once the readers trust you, you can take them anywhere.

    What, you thought this would be easy?

    You've got to get out there. File it all under "research." It all feeds the monster.

    There's no greater sin than a life half-lived.
     
    Russ likes this.
  7. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    For a given value of "lived".
     
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Quoting for emphasis.

    There's only so much detail you can add to the experience of stepping in horse dung before it starts to distract from the story. Sometimes it's enough that it can happen at all.

    It's like the towel in the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy. If you have it with you, people will assume you're a respectable and organised enough individual to have the rest of your related paraphernalia with you, or at least to have packed it in the first place. Same goes with storytelling I'm sure.
     
  9. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    As with all things about writing. You take away what you can use and leave what you can't.
    If you believe you can write without living it, go for it.

    There is a lot more to horses then manure, btw I'd much rather walk in horse manure for hours then step in dog doo once.

    I offer this.
    Dr Phil was talking to an overweight woman. He asked what she was doing to be more active. She said I'm taking up horseback riding.
    Dr Phil replied "That's good exercise...for the horse."
    Anyone that takes care of horses knows they are a lot more work then climbing on a sitting there for the ride.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I totally agree with the sentiment that one should do one's best to experience things that you are writing about first hand.

    Some of the best novelists I know do this and it makes their work far better for it. For instance David Morrell learned to fly small planes for one of his novels and has also taken outdoor survival courses etc. Steve Berry spends hours and hours in the unique settings he plans to write in. There are many more examples.

    I have done medieval fighting for years, in and out of armour, and I can tell you first hand that I far better understand a sword fight from from having done that than what I have learned from reading any multitude of books on the subject. I have hiked up to Durnstein castle and spent many hours in very old buildings in Europe to understand what it might be like to live in them. I have also done medieval camping. Next up is learning to ride horses.

    The timing of the post is serendipitous. I just finished reading the ARC for a book called The Renegade Writer which is a book that will be coming out about writing by a thriller writer who preaches that you should do virtually everything your character does to be a better writer (I also understand he will be having a TV show on this subject shortly as well). Here is the current trailer for the TV show:



    There are a million excuses for not doing things. That just leads to a million regrets.

    Like on the thread about being pulled thin, it is about priority and sacrifice. How high is writing on your priority list? Will I play tennis tonight or write for three hours? My call. Sometimes you have to sacrifice for your art and think hard about how serious you are about your writing. What are you willing to sacrifice to do it well? Is it a hobby or your calling?

    But damn I will never forget the first time my sparring partner threw a full speed overhand cut at me and I had to block it...never.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017
  11. I'll ask again; am I inherently unqualified to write because I CAN'T go out and have these experience, at least not at this point? No time, no money...

    I posted this question not too long ago (though mine was oriented more on emotional experiences) and the consensus was that you totally could BS everything. (To a point.) But...then there are people that say no, you have to go out and do it. Which is a depressing prospect for a broke teenager.

    My books don't have fighting in armor and horseback riding in them; heck, hardly any swords. The "experiences I haven't had" are mostly emotional.

    Also, how do you research riding a dragon? This world doesn't have horses, but it does have dragons.

    I have no interest in hands-on, personal research of what it's like to give birth, have a limb sawn off while conscious, get a cut stitched up with no anesthesia, be whipped bloody, or eat absolutely any nasty thing raw (but grubs and insects especially). More commitment needed maybe? Heeheehee.

    I'm kinda thinking if you CAN put yourself through everything your characters go through, you ought to beat up on them a bit more...

    The "you have to go out and experience your research" idea is kinda deficient in several ways. I'm all for it if you're able, but some of us aren't...
     
  12. (You guys may be laughing at my example of getting the limb sawn off, but it's a serious concern...not the amputation part, but the aftermath. I don't know what the healing process would be like. I don't know what it's like to live without your dominant arm. I don't know what phantom limb sensations would feel like, or even if my character would have them. I do this to a POV character, and it's a large part of the story both plot-wise and thematically.

    And I CAN'T experience this for myself unless I get my arm amputated myself. )
     
  13. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I did a good chunk of my research as a broke college student. I took courses at a stunt school, I joined the SCA and the fencing team, and I made friends with a guy who was trying to become a swordsmith (and is now one of the finest in the world, 30 years later). In one summer I spent a month smuggling relief supplies into a country ruled by a military junta, I learned to surf, and I had sex with a professional clown.

    Go get your ass kicked. Emotionally or otherwise.

    For my pegasus saddles, first I had to design a pegasus. I bought beer and burgers at this bar down the way (I know you're too young for this, yet, but it's my M.O.) with our veterinarian after work and we went over pictures of horse and bird anatomy and he helped me sketch some ideas as to how the wings would attach. (Granted, it will never work in real life -- the leverage is all wrong -- but we have magic for that. And again, once you have the small details down, the magic comes easy.) Once I had that, then I realized I had a stirrup problem.

    I talked to some friends who joust, and learned the role that the stirrups play in combat. Once I learned about jousting (which went faster because of my background in martial arts and historic martial arts), I went to a riding school and talked to the instructors about jumping a horse, and what would happen in stirrups in a theoretical negative-G dive. At the school, I got to watch people doing it, I learned all about saddles and why they're designed the way they are. Then I talked to a yoga instructor at the YMCA to see how far it's possible to bend your legs in a given direction while putting pressure on them.

    Raw insects can be pretty good. Cooked ones are safer. And tastier.

    And you can improvise. You don't have to be whipped bloody. Go spend a day clearing blackberries and feel your arms at the end of the day. Write about it that night. Really get miserable and study the sensations; free-associate and just write down whatever comes to mind. Then amplify it a thousand times. As to being stitched up -- you've never had to dig out a splinter? You can take that and extrapolate.

    You need to read my book.

    You totally are. It's whether or not you will. It's a lifestyle choice. Seriously.
     
  14. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    This, right here. This is writing.

    I was just talking in an interview about an idea for what I'd write after my series is done; I'd like to write a collection of short stories about the adventures I've gotten into over the past 40 years that led me to writing this series.

    EDIT: Gotta wonder if he'd ever have guest spots available . . .
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017
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  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    There is more than one way to skin a cat.

    ...by which I mean that there's more than one answer to the question, none of which is objectively correct, and none of which is objectively wrong.
    What you do is you consider the options, make sure you understand them, and pick the one that suits you best.

    Not having personal experience about whatever you're writing does not disqualify you from writing.

    Will real-life experience add depth and character to your story? Yes, probably - provided you're a good enough writer to let your experience shine through in your story.

    Will real-life experience make your story better? Yes, maybe, possibly - unless your story is crap to begin with.



    ...and as I'm sitting here something else strikes me.
    What is the difference between what real life experience brings to a story, and what research brings to a story?

    The way I see it at the moment (the way I see things change at irregular intervals) is that research brings correctness, and experience adds depth. These are two different things.

    Correctness, or freedom from obvious errors, is what prevents your reader from rolling their eyes and throwing the book across the room when you get something glaringly obvious wrong - like your main character putting their hand into lava to fish up an important piece of paper they dropped.

    Depth, or believability, is what sends shivers down your reader's spine when your character stands outside in the cold autumn rain in the middle of the night wearing nothing but a thin night-shift and a pair of soggy slippers with stupid little bunny ears.

    If you do your research and get things right, that's probably good enough for people to enjoy your story - provided your story itself is good enough and you're a good enough writer.

    If you write about things you have personal real world experience with, that's probably good enough for people to enjoy your story - provided your story is good enough and you're a good enough writer.

    See what I'm getting at?
    It's not about what kind of research is the best - real life experience or online reading - it's about telling a story your readers enjoy. I'd say the only real "requirement" is getting your facts straight - and even that can be a point of contention around these parts.
    Don't stop at the bare minimum if you don't have to, but don't feel that you have to live in an igloo for six months just because your story includes snow.
     
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  16. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I know the guy. I will let you know when and if the show gets rolling (I think it will) and if he will be looking for writer guests.
     
  17. Ehhh, well. I'm making efforts within my means...

    I started Krav Maga and kickboxing a couple weeks ago, if that counts for anything, lol. Managed to get very (very) sore and take the skin off my knuckles punching without gloves...That's about the extent of it. Where do you learn to throw knives...?

    My homeschool group was going to have an archery team, but I'm not sure where that went...

    When you still live with your parents, are broke, and have lots of things like completing high school competing for your time, it can be tough. I would like to actually visit places similar to those I write about, but it's not going to happen. My writing isn't inherently *less* (good, valuable, entertaining) because I can't back it up with firsthand experience. Please don't think I'm downplaying the importance of getting into your research and researching with personal experience because I'm not...but you don't *need* to do thisandthisandthisandthis to write. You need a pencil and paper to write.

    Getting experience takes time, too. It happens with age. I'm not amply priveleged in that department. Should I wait to get writing? Doesn't seem like a great idea when I could be just getting lots of writing done...

    My list of things to research is pretty vast, and I want to get into it as much as possible, but with some things the best I can do is talk to people and/or watch YouTube videos. Sorry, but I'm not going to get pregnant just so I can have the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. I'm a teenager and don't want to be a statistic. Anyway.

    Eating nasty things? If I wasn't acutely emetophobic (fear of vomit...it's a thing) I might. Actually, I probably wouldnt. I draw the line there.

    Blackberries? Where? I live in a barren, plant-deficient suburb.

    Sometimes I figure my focus should be on making the most of what I *do* have rather than going after what I *don't* have. What do I have knowledge of? Panic attacks. Social anxiety. Umm...I've watched a cat give birth. (More than once.) I've *tried* to climb a tree. I haven't been on a horse since I was 8... I love the outdoors, but I've never really had an outdoors to love.

    Pathetic, aren't I?

    I can't let anything stop me from writing (or feeling like I *can* write), though. That's what's important.
     
  18. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Right. Because all real writing happens when you travel to faraway lands and then write about those experiences. Non-fiction? Yes. But that video...sorry Russ, is bologna. Js.
     
  19. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    It depends, too, on what you're writing and what kind of writer you want to be.

    I'm about to make a bunch of people really mad.

    If you want to be a pulp writer; if you want to just crank out minimally-edited, uncreative but serviceable books full of cliches and overused tropes and get them out the door as fast as you can because it will make you money once you have a catalog of books -- even perfectly forgettable, 99c books -- then no, you don't have to do your research. Plenty of fantasy authors are doing this right now. Kindle is full of them. Dare I say, overflowing. It's a perfectly acceptable way to make a living. These are writers who aim for 3-5000 words a day, writing stories that everybody already knows. It's the romance author approach to fantasy. Personally, I'd rather dig ditches.

    If you do this, and you BS your research, then you're going to alienate a tiny percentage of fantasy readers. At least, to hear the pulp writers tell it. I think the percentage is much larger than they let on. The pulp writers say -- and you'll see this on other boards where pulp writers congregate -- that hand-waving is fine, because most people don't care. People read fantasy to escape, not to pick it apart.

    The minority that hates it when you hand-wave? That's my audience. And the audience of a lot of other authors, as well. They're criminally under-served by the landslide of hand-waved, hastily-researched, YA bullshit. I know, because I've been speaking at cons for the last few years. Not as an aspiring author, but as an expert in military strategy, swordsmanship, and hand to hand combat. Every time I demonstrate something or explain something, a dozen hands go up asking why "Author X" or "TV Show Y" got it so wrong. And they get pissed off about it. They feel lied-to.

    Those folks with their hands in the air are a fanatical, foaming-at-the-mouth-loyal readership, if you can gain their trust. You gain that trust by doing this stuff -- and doing your research, and talking to people who've done it -- and not just telling it right, but writing deep enough that they suspend disbelief.

    There's a reason that historically, the wildly successful fantasy authors have been in their 50's and 60's. And why "young" successful fantasy authors are in their 40's. You're likely not going to write realistic, intensely-researched and gripping fantasy in high school.

    But you need to write.

    There's stuff you can write at your age. Hell, plotting a series can take a year. It took me years of constant rewriting and going down rabbit holes with my story before I even realized what my series was really about; I'm lucky I didn't publish the first novel I ever wrote. Or the fifth.

    I read someplace that Eragon was written while the author was in high school. It's not exactly a paragon of realism, but it covers some wonderful emotional ground that any teenager can relate to.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  20. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    ??? Normally I agree with you on a lot of things, but this isn't all of the authors you and I read about on those boards (since I know we frequent the same places). Some of us do a lot of research. Just this morning I spent entirely way too much time reading about Novgorod. And I would say this applies to several of the pulp authors I've formed friendships with in the past year or so. I know you don't like/respect pulp, but come on...some DO research. :) Without research, how do you write good fantasy or good historical fiction or fiction in general?
     
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