Sunday, July 30, 2017


(Diary-entry post deleted in favor of more rambling about writing.)

So, research. I find research fun. Sometimes more fun than doing the book. There's at least two phases of it, and that first phase -- the background and familiarization phase -- is more like what you'd do to unwind than it is like work. That's the part of just looking at a lot of materials -- popular-press and fictionalized are just as good here -- to get a general sense of the material.

It's great because you can do this sort of stuff in the background, immersing yourself in the material while eating, at work, getting ready for bed, etc.

The final -- loosely put -- phase is the least fun, and that's when in the middle of typing up a scene you have to pause and go back over your collated notes and bookmarks and whatever to put in the correct spelling of the Pharaoh's name and the correct dates of her reign.

The latter is one of the reasons why it can be helpful to write up your research; to put together a monograph (or whatever you want to call a distillation of what you've found). Another big reason is that organizing it and writing an essay on it helps you to better grasp and remember it. Which is why students have to write so many of the things).

But what I really wanted to talk about is the pleasures of applying that research.

At the lowest level, there's knowing you are getting the names and dates right. I'm tempted to call this Wikipedia-level stuff, except that Wikipedia has gotten so crazy detailed over the last few years someone needs to step in and fork out a more entry-level approach for the general audience.

Better than this is four-senses stuff. It isn't quite as simple to find out what the colors or the sounds, much less the scents and tastes are (well, depending on what you are researching!) This is stuff that draws a reader into a setting much more than just naming the city.

More work yet -- and more payoff -- is a layer I'd call functionality. I could also call it the place where the nouns live. In your outline framework your character might sheath their weapon or hail a cab or button a shirt. When you've done the research, you know that you don't sheath an axe, the better casual transport option in Bangkok is the Tuk-Tuk, and there's no buttons on a wetsuit.

This isn't about errors, per se. This is about how the minutia of picking up and purchasing, strolling or hiding, or whatever functional things need to be done to get the character through the stages of the plot, unfold differently in different fields, with different tools, in different places. "Buy a burger" is a cheap way of covering, "in scene six the protagonist eats something"; good research will option up the option to have them "Haggle over a kebab at a street stall."

Better than that are the things writer Even S. Connel called "pickled plums." These are the bits that are so specific and yet so illuminating, things that could only have happened in the specific circumstances you are researching about. During one early Arctic expedition, it was so cold out that the moment the diarist (Cherry-Girard, I believe) stuck his head out of the heated tent his outer clothing froze "instantly," trapping his head in a screwed-around position, and he had to struggle through the whole morning like that.

My own pinpoint observation of extreme cold came on a glacier in Alaska when the moisture on my eyelashes froze. It was a quietly alien moment, gently astonishing as so far outside one's usual experience. I even thought I heard faint chimes as the bits of ice rang off each other with each blink (but I was almost certainly imagining that).

As delightful as the plums are, above that is where you are able to resynthesize. In all the other stuff, you are basically regurgitating. You've found a description that said "The color of fried tomatoes" or "a short walk from the pier." The best fun is when you've done enough research where you can come up with your own description from scratch. Where you can apply your own emotional response and parallels from your own experience to approach describing the thing.

And, also, when your understanding of it is so organic you are no longer dropping in the correct nouns and adjectives, but where the entire scene is shaped by the specifics of a thing or task or environment or character.

In short, 180 from the stereotypical "hollywood" approach (aka script first, then distort the real world to fit the existing plot).

Oh, yeah. diary stuff. I'm increasingly excited about composing again, getting in my instrument practice and music theory studies, but I need to set up, before I set up I need to clean, before I clean I need to put the holocron project to bed. This afternoon is about soldering up another set of boards, and I have hopes that I'll be able to keep focus long enough to get some detail painting in as well; two tasks my health woes and work schedule did not permit.

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