Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time and place

I've been invited to contribute to an anthology that requires all stories take place within a tightly constrained geographical location, though the stories can be set in the past or the present.

Though I visited this location a few times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the story I'm writing takes place even earlier. And my protagonist has an occupation with which I have minimal knowledge.

So, I'm having to research both time and place. What did this location look like at that point in time? What was happening in the world that impacted that location? How did my protagonist's occupation fit the time and place? And so on.

I don't write much fiction that requires extensive research because it often isn't cost-effective, and I always find myself traveling down research dead-ends or spending time reading about cool stuff that has nothing to do with the story-in-progress. (Though, I must admit, my ghost story "Pushing Coal" in Specters in Coal Dust, for which I had to research coal mining in the 1950s, turned out pretty good.) This time is no different.

But I'm glad I'm doing it because this is a story I never would have written without the invitation, and I have high hopes for the final draft.


Anne E. Johnson said...

Hope you enjoy your research and find it worthwhile. Because I do a fair amount of historical fiction, lots of research is a normal part of writing for me. It is time-consuming, but the expense hasn't been such an issue. Mainly I write about times so far in the past that traveling to the spot isn't so helpful. There used to be a battlefield and monastery, but now there's a Tesco convenience store and a hotel... I think it's great that you can go to the place and let the visit teach you. -Anne

Brian Drake said...

Why is research not cost-effective for you? For my recent novel "Show No Mercy", part of which took place in Italy, I used Google Earth to find the geographic area I wanted, and then read about the location on Wikipedia and other sources. Cost? Nothing but my wireless bill. What you describe sounds much more in-depth so I see your point, but for present-day material a little reading and imagination should carry you through.

Michael Bracken said...

Well, y'all, perhaps "cost-effective" isn't the best way to describe what I mean. Here's an example of what I mean:

I write a story set in present day. It requires a minimal about of research, if any. Research and writing time total 10 hours. I get paid $200. I earn $20/hour.

I write a story that requires extensive research. Research and writing time total 20 hours. I get paid $200. I earn $10/hour.

Therefore, writing the story that requires extensive research is not cost-effective.

(Granted, there may be value in writing the story that can't obviously be monetized, but I make my living from freelancing and I'm quite aware of my per-hour earnings.)

The particular story I'm working on requires details I haven't been able to glean from a quick Google search. I may need to visit with a research librarian before I reach the final draft.