The Research Monster

From MS Encarta:
“Hydra (mythology), in Greek mythology, nine-headed monster that dwelled in a marsh near Lerna, Greece. A menace to all of Árgos, it had fatally poisonous breath and when one head was severed, grew two in its place; its central head was immortal. Hercules, sent to kill the serpent as the second of his 12 labors, succeeded in slaying it by burning off the eight mortal heads and burying the ninth, immortal head under a huge rock. The term hydra is commonly applied to any complex situation or problem that continually poses compounded difficulties.”

This is a pretty good description of how I’m feeling right now about researching my current mess-in-progress.

First, I actually do quite a bit of research ahead of time. This story has a balloonist hero so I read several books on the history of ballooning before I even started.

However, my plots are never that clear at the beginning so all sorts of questions crop up in the course of the writing. For instance, I hadn’t realized at the start that this hero was also an ex-soldier. Another area of research…sigh…but also a good excuse for viewing more Sharpe movies. 🙂

But I try not to get side-tracked by research (easy to do with Sharpe!) so usually I just put in notes to myself for what to look up later. This week, since my kids are off school and it’s hard to get into scene-writing, I have started to look at all those notes and tackle some of them.

And I’m really starting to feel overwhelmed! In the course of the drafting I’ve learned that this hero is not only an soldier but he’s also an army brat. Now I have to figure out not only where he’s been and what he’s done but also where and how his father might have served. Then there are a host of things about the heroine, her background and her family that keep cropping up. I need to study up on all sorts of diverse subjects from the Clapham sect to the mating habits of British birds. Yikes!

It makes me start wondering why I keep getting myself into these messes. When these ideas come to me, are they the true whisperings of my muse or just some sort of literary death wish???

Some authors blithely write bestsellers without checking basic facts and their readers don’t mind a bit. Oh well, I can’t do that (though I make no claims to perfection in my research). The real reason I do it is because I can’t write with confidence otherwise. When I’ve exhausted the resources of the local university library, when I’ve pulsed the helpful members of The Beau Monde without getting a definitive reply, then and only then do I feel safe in just “making it up.”

So, my fellow writers, have you ever had a manuscript turn into this sort of monster? Have you found any ways to tame it? When do you fling up your hands and just make it up?

Dear readers, do all these historical details really add to your pleasure in a story? Please tell me they do!

Elena 🙂

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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