Sunday, August 14, 2011

If at first you don’t succeed…do some more research.

Anyone who writes historical romances knows how much research can go into developing and creating a story. Since I am a voracious nonfiction history reader, this is one of my favorite parts of the process, but it can be tough. History in broad strokes is easy to discover. It’s the small details of daily life that can be elusive.  Sometimes I can find the details, other times I have to take some artistic license based on my knowledge of the period. And then there are times when, despite my research, my careful fact checking, I still manage to get it wrong
I was recently editing my manuscript for Mask of the Gladiator, my ancient Rome novella, and double checking my facts when I discovered I had made not one, but many mistakes.  I would read a sentence and something about it didn’t seem right. Off to the internet or a research book I would go, only to find out it was incorrect. Then I’d ask myself, “How did I miss this during the umpteenth times I’ve read this story?” or “I know I looked this up before. How did I get it so wrong?”
Since catching mistakes and making changes is part of the editing process, I can’t be too hard on myself. Also, after listening to a recent interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian David McCullough, I know I’m not alone. When asked about his research methods, he admitted that he continues researching right through the copyediting process. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard this. If a noted historian of his stature can keep researching until the last minute, then so can I. After all, in the end it doesn’t matter when you get it right, as long as you do.


Phyllis Humphrey said...

How appropriate. Your post camejust at the time I'm doing further research about the Titanic. Of course my novel, COLD APRIL came out last December, but a British author published a book at the same time in which she alleged something totally different. My latest findings would not have gone in,to my book anyway, but they're going in theBlogs I plan to post soon, So thanks for the serendipity.

Phyllis Humphrey

Wendy Soliman said...

Making just one tiny factual mistake can put readers off, even if you get all the others right. Some smart whatsit always seems to know and takes delight in pointing out the error so good on your for being so pedantic.

Claire Robyns said...

I have the same problem about finding details on the little things, like how would she have cleaned her teeth in that era? What undergarments would she have worn, if any? And sometimes it's knowing the facts but trying to work around it, like how to keep your hero fresh and clean when bathing was a seasonal event, lol.

I always think I hand in a clean manuscript (at least, research wise) but my wonderful editor always picks up one or two things I've gotten wrong!

As a reader, as long as it's not something glaring that jumps out at me page after page, I won't let it bother me.

Barbara Monajem said...

It's funny how a little voice tells you when you need to check something. (Most of the time, anyway.) I call it (him, actually) my shoulder-whisperer.

Ancient Rome! How cool. :)