Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

04 March 2009

Coming up for air



I finished a second draft of my historical novel, Like Mayflies in a Stream, last night . . . well, technically, this morning. It still needs work before I turn it in on the 15th, but I’m excited to have finished this revision and happy with how the book is shaping up.

I did part of my research before and while I wrote, and I’ll do the rest over the next week or so in an orgy of reading and Internet searching. That may sound backwards, but researching after the the first draft is done has advantages. Because I know exactly what it is in the novel, as I read background materials any mistakes I made jump out. So do possible cool details to add. Also, it’s not until the novel is close to finished that I know what topics I need to research to write it.

For example, a week ago I didn’t even know what commodity cash is and yesterday I rewrote all the financial transactions in Mayflies to make the economy more historically accurate.

The research I’ve already done has been so fascinating that I hope to write another book set in ancient Mesopotamia. It’s startling how much of our culture is rooted in that time and place. The 360 degrees of a circle and the 24-hour day, for starters.

Interspersed among my usual author interviews, editing tips, and pictures of stuff in my yard, my blog will start including more about my research—not just cool facts about guys who wore sheep-fleece skirts with tails but also the quagmires of writing about a time period where most of the evidence has washed away, been stolen, is still buried, or is hard to interpret.

When you do background research for your books, how much do you do ahead of time, while you're writing, and after you've finished the first draft?

12 comments:

steve on the slow train said...

Because I started writing on the spur of the moment, just about all of my research has been done while I'm writing. Researching Chicago of August 24-30, 1968 means I have to deal with dozens of accounts of the same event, many of which contradict each other. And the worst is what I'm working on right now--the police riot in Grant Park, which had more news coverage than any other event that week. There are some advantages to setting your novel 5000 or so years ago.

Scott said...

Shauna,

For the book I'm presently working on , I seem to do a lot of research on the fly, as I'm writing it. Lately, I've done some ahead of the writing process, but mostly it's as I'm in the thick of it.

I can't wait to read your book!

Charles Gramlich said...

Really good point about knowing exactly what to research after you've completed a first draft. I actually never really thought about taking that path and it sounds very "right" to me.

Normally, I'm kind of like Scott in that I do research on the fly. When I'm writing a sailing scene, for example, I start checking out sailing facts and sites.

COngrats on all the progress you've made.

Rae Ann Parker said...

For the book I'm working on now, I researched first, but as I write, more research questions pop up. I definitely agree that after the first draft is done, more research will be needed. I keep a list as I write of things that need more clarification and try to keep writing.

DeAnna Cameron said...

Congratulations on finishing your revision, Shauna! That's a huge step. I'm like you, I do a lot of researching after a manuscript draft is done so that I can double check accuracy. I also do a lot at the front end, before I ever write anything, and I make notes about cool or interesting facts I want to include.
I can't wait to read your novel -- it really sounds fascinating :-)

DeAnna Cameron said...

Congratulations on finishing your revision, Shauna! That's a huge step. I'm like you, I do a lot of researching after a manuscript draft is done so that I can double check accuracy. I also do a lot at the front end, before I ever write anything, and I make notes about cool or interesting facts I want to include.
I can't wait to read your novel -- it really sounds fascinating :-)

ARCHAVIST said...

I work the same way. I always have some research when I start a project but I then research as I go along. Will have to get one of your books.

Steve Malley said...

My only 'research' before I start is whatever odd reading/observing/ruminating planted the story idea in my head anyway. That's an ongoing and pretty random process.

While I'm writing, I just make stuff up to suit. Then, draft the 2nd (and 3rd, 4th, etc.), I correct, fact-check, rewrite, etc. You said it much more succinctly than I could: by then I know what I need!

Sidney said...

That's great about finishing the draft!

Lana Gramlich said...

Congratulations on finishing that 2nd draft!
Although I don't typically "research" before I paint, I DO think a lot, visualize & sometimes do a few, cursory sketches.

Shauna Roberts said...

STEVE ON THE SLOW TRAIN, I don't envy your writing about the Democratic convention of 1968. Reconciling all those different accounts must be hair-pulling-out exasperating.

SCOTT, I've done a lot of research on the fly, too. I've heard some writers advise not researching while writing because it disrupts the flow of writing, but I don't see how I could have written, for example, the scene with the stampeding herd of aurochs unless I knew something about aurochs, including, first off, that they lived in Mesopotamia during my time period.

CHARLES, thanks.

RAE ANN, thanks for telling how you do it. It would be hard to write a historical book without doing some research first, I think.

DEANNA, thanks for your encouragement. I'm learning a lot about my writing process with this book. I can't wait to read your book either!

ARCHAVIST, did you come to the US to see the West as part of your research? I think it might be hard to write about the American West from Wales in that much of your American audience is intimately familiar with the landscape and/or had pioneer ancestors and will notice small errors.

STEVE, funny, I pictured your having a much more structured approach because of your background as an artist.

SIDNEY, thanks! I hope school is going well for you.

LANA, interesting. I would have thought you would take some pictures or look at pictures before painting an animal.

Barbara Martin said...

I tend to do my research well before I begin writing. Other times I will collect the material and non-fiction books to have at hand when I begin writing. For my second and third manuscripts I know the time period they will be in, plus the locations, people, customs and political climate will be. The research material is to ensure I get the details correct. I have read some books where the author's knowledge of a particular topic is way off base, and that tends to make me steer clear of their subsequent books. I prefer that not to happen to me when my manuscripts are finally published.