Dangerous research

I’m writing an 18th-century romp at the moment, and I’m finding that the only thing more fun than writing sex-in-a-chemise is researching chemises (and other things). Granted, research has a way of sucking up my time, but it’s all for a purpose, right? The dishes can wait: I must know about morganatic marriages and antique iron strongboxes right now.

The funnest part so far has been in taste-testing all those drinks of the day: port, claret, Madeira, sherry. I thought about trying to get my hands on some laudanum, just to experience the loopiness for myself, but el hubby convinced me that I might get into some legal trouble. Boo.

At any rate, fun as it might be, there is also a danger in researching, and in writing in general: what if I get it wrong? I’ve seen so many decent books heckled over nitpicks: chocolate and tomatoes in pre-Colombian Europe, Regency ladies wearing knickers, inaccurate modern police procedure, incorrect forms of address for titled folks. Can a book recover from such a flaw? Can a writer move past a humiliation like having her red-shirt tertiary character bleed out from a paper cut or allowing her hero to hack an alien computer with a wholly inconceiveable operating system based on bubbles? *wibble*

Personally, as a reader, some of my favorite authors play a little fast and loose with the facts, and I don’t mind one bit. It’s their stories, their characters, that draw me in, and I’m willing to forgive them a lot of research oopsing. As a writer, though, I guess I’m not comfortable enough with my own skills yet to cut myself the same slack.

And the tension – as well as the pile of reference books – mounts. Think I need an absinthe and a bubble bath to get my muse back on track. Only, absinthe is 19th c. Noooo! Very well, will apply head to desk instead.


This post written for and cross-posted to Romance Writers Behaving Badly.


Teresa Thomas Bohannon said...

I agree with your comments. Fiction is fiction. Personally, I read fiction for the story--the pleasant fantasy--not the accuracy of the backdrop...especially in the case of historical novels. My degrees are in history and while I do read and enjoy scholarly works, I also firmly believe that the actual truth about the day to day details of the time period can quickly ruin a good novel. When I read for light entertainment, I don't want my story overly bogged down with inconvenient truths.... Give me a good story, and I'll happily settle for entertaining characters living in a reasonable approximation of an accurate historical setting :)

Brie said...

My failing at research is part of the reason why I almost always stop writing stories. I just can't prop up the stories with experience and the research, as much as I enjoy it, takes far too long.

Cara Bristol said...

The research element is one reason why I write contemporary erotic romance. However, it's amazing, still, how many little things I need to look up.

When reading other authors, I also read for the story and will forgive a few lapses. No fiction writer can know everything! My husband is a stickler for accuracy (of course, he doesn't read romance). He'll allow only 2 technical mistakes. When the author makes a third, he'll throw the book away in disgust. Woe be to the author who gets the calibre of a bullet wrong!