jessicasteiner: (Bad Writing Day)
Today I realized that there's a distinct chance that I could do research and planning for my steampunk historical fantasy series set in Japan for the next decade before feeling confident enough to actually begin writing.

I'm overall okay with it.

Good thing I've got a lot to do in the meantime.
jessicasteiner: (Bad Writing Day)
The last week or so, I've been in a bit of a research mood - which is a pretty rare thing. Though research is a necessary part of my job (law) and my evening career (writing) I generally don't enjoy much of the process. I don't always enjoy learning about the things that I have to slog through to get to the end of my goal, and the detail-orientation required to really dig into a subject is sort of beyond me. I have a tendency to want to learn enough to understand the basics and then I get bored.

But sometimes I get a wild hair and can't get enough of researching something.

One of the projects I've got waiting in the wings for some year when I have time, is a series of historical fantasy steampunk novels set in Japan. The amount of research I have to do just to plan these novels is staggering, and has sent me from library to library and across the internet, and I still feel like I've only scratched the surface.

I do enjoy much of what I learn, though. And I wanted to share a little tidbit of what I uncovered this week, because it's almost certainly going to make it into my novels.

Back in the 1560s or 1570s, a warlord brokered a peace with Oda Nobunaga, one of the most famous warlords in Japanese history, and one of those instrumental in ultimately unifying the country. As part of this peace, the warlord gave Nobunaga a haunted, living tea set called Tsukumogami. The stories about this tea set have spawned an entire subset of Japanese myths around inanimate objects that have come to life after reaching 100 years of age.

I'm still teasing out more information about Tsukumogami, but I think I'm going to have fun with this.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
I won't say I'm an expert on this by any means, but if you want to be a writer, there are going to be times when you have to do some research. Whether you're writing historical fantasy novels where you have to delve deeply into some real-life historical time period, or writing science fiction set in some far-flung galaxy, there will be moments when you run up against some factual tidbit that you don't know.

Do you guess and bullshit your way through it, or do in-depth research? Usually the best option is somewhere in the middle, depending on what it is. Sometimes the only way around is in-depth research - if it's something key to your story, you don't want to get it wrong. If it's a minor detail, you might not want to spend hours sussing it out, but you also don't want to mess it up.

Because I guarantee you, someone will know.

Here are a couple of tips for finding those niggling facts:

1. Google and Wikipedia. Not the best option for the key facts, but it's generally my go-to start point. Resources you come up with on the internet can be wrong, but that doesn't mean they always are. If you're looking for a little easy fact, like when the zipper was invented or what the name of a particular star is, you can probably get the answer quickly and easily using the internet. For bigger things, you can get a general overview of your topic and learn how to find more detailed resources by starting with a quick search.

2. The Library. You might be amazed, but there are actually still libraries out there and there are people in those libraries who can help you to find the information you need, quickly, cheaply, and easily. If you have a university near you, take advantage of it. But even if you don't, there are interlibrary loans and other options to get you the books you need for those most important facts. Through the university you may also be able to get into contact with a real live expert on the subject, as well.

3. Bookstores. If all else fails, you can purchase textbooks on your subject online or at your local bookstore. If you are dedicating many years of your life to some series of novels set in a particular time period, it might be worth it to you to invest in a small library of books on that time period, to use as quick reference about a variety of important details.

4. Read other fiction books about your topic. This is a double-edged sword. If there is an author who you feel has done his or her research and it's likely to be accurate, you can probably pick up on a lot of information just by reading their novels. But be careful! They could be bullshitters who have guessed their way through. Most movies set in the past are horribly inaccurate. It's important to do your own research as well, to be sure that what you're using is accurate. But for real-life flavour, a good novelist can help a great deal.

5. Read books written by actual people in that time period, or culture, that you want to research. If you can pull this off, do it. Of course, if you're writing a book set in the future or in the very far past, there won't be books written by a native. But when it comes to little details like grooming, social mores, etc., it can often be hard to find textbooks that give you the real flavour of what it was like to actually live in that time period or culture. It's one thing to know that zippers weren't invented yet. It's another to read a book written by someone who lived without zippers, and pick up on the tiny ways in which that affected their lives, by living that life through their own eyes.

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Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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