Monday, January 17, 2011

In the Beginning, There was Research by Shana Galen

I’ll be the first person to tell you that I hate research. I’ve always hated it, which is of course, why I majored in Psychology in college and wrote a Senior thesis which involved—what else?—a lot of research!

And then I got out of Psychology and away from research, only to write historical romance novels which involve—what else?—a lot of research!

You would think after seven historical novels, I’d be resigned to the fact that I’m going to have to research, but for some reason I always think I’ll get out of it. My April book, The Making of a Rogue, was like this. It’s the third in my Sons of the Revolution series, and it’s about Bastien, the youngest son of the duc de Valère. Like his two brothers, Bastien escaped the Revolution and the guillotine. He did so by joining a group of pirates and sailing away from France.

When we catch up with Bastien, about twelve years later, he has his own ship and is a privateer in his own right. But he a problem in the form of the daughter of a British Navy Admiral.

So far so good, right?

Sure. If I knew something about ships. Or sailing.

But I wasn’t worried about this small oversight when I proposed the book. I wasn’t even worried when I wrote the first chapters. I began to worry about chapter three when I had more XXs (notes to myself to look something up) than I did actual words! Clearly, I had to stop and do research.

I checked out every book I could find in the library, ordered some from Amazon, and then I realized I had a great source right in front of me. My dad! He sails and he loves history. He’s always telling me about how he’s going to host a dinner and make authentic shipboard food from the Patrick O’Brien novels.

Not my dream, but to each his own, right?

So thank God for my dad. He actually made the research fun. And since I had to go back and make so many changes to the beginning of the book, I promised myself next time I’d research first.

And I just might…right after I write a few new pages…


  1. My father was a great source for all kinds of things. Unfortunately, he died about the time I really started writing in earnest. But I still remember some of his tales and wisdom, and quote them from time to time.

    I've found the internet to be a great place for research. I needed to know how to make primitive weapons and tools for my current WIP, and I found videos of just about everything I needed online. It's one thing to read a description and check out a few illustrations, but quite another to watch it actually being done.

  2. I love reading and finding interesting tidbits, but I don't like having to do in-depth research. I do most of mine on the internet. Unfortunately, I tend to get distracted. I'll be on for an hour, close out google, then realize I never even found what I was looking for.

  3. I do research in a myriad of ways--watching educational films of wolf group studies, reading about people's experiences with them in blogs, fans' experiences with raising wolves or wolf dogs, reading scholarly journals about what wolves can get in the line of illnesses--even to the point of how the saliva from a sheep kill was attributed to a dog, not a wolf.

    And for historical, the same way--some on the Internet, some in scholarly journals, and then some just has to be fiction. :)

    I usually start out writing the story, then have to stop to research to find out if what I'm saying can be true. It's been some years since I went to the Grand Cayman Islands so it wasn't long before I had to start researching for the story. Is the airport the same? Taxi service? Rental cars? Weather when they're there? Shark problems? :) But it makes it more realistic and fun. :)

    I totally love research. It usually gives me a new angle I never thought of including. :)

  4. Great post!

    I love research ... been the whole distance of the Oregon Trail with a hundred mail order brides during the California gold rush years, five of whom were sisters and kept finding their HEA's along the trail; learned the art of making soap; figured out how to make bootleg whiskey; and a multitude of other things all by research.
    The internet is great; books are great; but going to the actual place is priceless.

    In a book about the Oklahoma land run, the hero and heroine were romping around in a creek after a picnic. When I went to actually visit what was left of Dodsworth, Oklahoma, I found out no would ever swim in a mud hole like that creek so the scene changed.

  5. I'm not fond of just researching a subject or person, but I love reading history.

  6. Cheryl, I'm so thankful for the internet. How did people research without it?

    Anita, I definitely get distracted by my research. I see people's eyes glaze over when I start to talk about it.

    Terry, I definitely find films helpful. Friday night I watched a movie called The Lady and the Duke for my current WIP. Accurate period films are so helpful!

    Carolyn, it really helps to visit the places you're writing about, doesn't it? Until I went to England, I had no idea how cold it was even in the summer. hard for me to imagine living in Texas.

    Amelia, I feel the same way. Necessary evil, I guess.

  7. I know what you mean about research. I had to do a bit for various locations and animals--for my shifters. I do find the internet to be a great help. My Dad has been very helpful for the different bird clans. He's been an avid bird watcher for years and gave me some great insight on various birds of prey. Great post!

  8. Shana, great post. I like researching when I have a firm grasp of what it is I need more information on. With researching on the Net, I have to be really careful or I can get sucked into the eternal link-to-link madness. There's so much information out there and sometimes the link-to-link madness produces an awesome tidbit for my story. Oi. What's a writer to do?

    I had an "oh, crap" moment when I read your description. My villain in my October release is named Valere. He's not a duke though! LOL

  9. Loved your post and I love research. Think I could do it for a living it I had to. :) Many times I've found a plot solution 'in' the research and that's always great fun too. Sharla

  10. I enjoy research.... but usually as a way to dodge working for the day while still "claiming" I am working. ;-) So I guess for me it's a matter of finding out how much is enough research and then turning my attention to just writing the darn book! Thanks for an interesting blog!!!

  11. I love research, for my novels, it means that I get to travel to New York, Boise, and maybe take a few days playing in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Poor me, though after traveling, I am a little poorer--money wise at least.

  12. Sara, isn't it funny how we're still asking our dads for help?

    Tracey, don't worry at all about having the same name. There are only so many, right? Interesting you chose Valere for a villain. I thought it sounded heroic.

    Exactly, Sharla! When you find a really great plot idea, the research is all worth it.

    Catherine, I research as work all the time. I have to be strict with myself!

    Robin, I wish my locales were so close. I need to go to Paris and London. Talk about poor!

  13. Even though I write contemporaries, I still have to do research - although it's usually a case of confirming details to make sure I have them right. I have experience in the Western world I write about, but I don't necessarily do everything correctly! People might not mind if I hold the reins wrong or something, but readers won't like it if my cowboy does!

  14. Hi Shana! I'm a bit different, as I always do my research first. Although I chafe at the time it takes away from the actual writing, it does serve to inspire some scenes in my books. But I do know just how you feel. :}