I’m not one to get lost in research for days or months. I’m a pantser (as they call it over in NaNo land) by nature, although I’m trying to change my ways. The planners, when they are able to balance prep and writing, tend to be more productive. A better organizational system might prove helpful for my writing projects. The greatest tool I have so far is my library card. My second greatest is a day planner. As I push to finish the rewrite on my current novel before NaNoWriMo begins, I’ve found I need to become more diligent in the use of both.
Saturday, I went to the library for a couple of books on medieval history and life. I found two good ones, fairly recently published narratives with a scholarly bent. I like historical books that read more like a story than scholarly research. I’ve already read a short history of the Bubonic Plague in Europe, and a short account of the rise and reign of Charlemagne, HRE and Frankish king. I also read a sweeping and detailed analysis of the Battle of Hastings, which mostly covered the century or so leading up to the events of 1066 and all the circumstances that allowed a successful Norman invasion of England to occur. Fascination stuff right there. I’d go into it but this isn’t a bedtime stories blog.
The two books I got are:
A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age, by William Manchester, and
Barbarians to Angels: the Dark Ages Reconsidered, by Peter S. Wells.
The first book was originally published in 1992. The ‘more info’ tab on the library site describes this work as “the preeminent popular history of civilization’s rebirth after the Dark Ages”. That’s it. The second–published in 2008 by a professor of archaeology–attempts to look at the Dark Ages through the lens of newly unearthed archaeological records. The written record is spare, but the author contends a rich culture is evident by the artifacts left behind. Basically, I have a book from the perspective of the long held tradition of the Middle Ages as a dark time intellectually and economically, and another book that throws the old standard out in order to show–with new evidence–that the Middle Ages had its own bright spots, and the Renaissance didn’t spring randomly from the morass of medieval ignorance.
I haven’s finished either one yet. I’m not reviewing the merits of the books today. Rather, I’m making a point about libraries and research methods. Again, I’m a pantser, which I’ve recently heard described as a ‘discovery writer’. That sounds more diginified, but it’s the same thing. My book has come together in fits and starts and lacks the cohesiveness of great stories I’ve read. I have nuanced characters and not-terrible dialogue, and that’s a good start. The world they inhabit, however, looks much like the decoy town in Blazing Saddles. If a reader took a moment to check around back, or test the sturdiness of a building with a good push, the whole illusion would crumble. My characters are running around through a bunch of back lot set pieces, populated by too few extras. I’m doing my research after writing, to bolster up what I have so far, to give my world the life and color it now lacks.
I don’t know what the reality of living in non-technological world is like. This little foray into the land of research should help. I’m exploring my options, and formulation questions to answer.
How does trade work, both internally and internationally? What is the town structure? Are there lords, vassals, and serfs, or kings, landholding nobles, and tenant farmers? How’s the currency doing? What’s the gross domestic product, and is it affected by weather and climate? Any recent population decimators, like war or disease/plague? How often is there intercultural exchange of ideas?
This will all add texture and depth to my world, and change how the characters interact with it. External forces may throw wrenches in their internal motivations, creating a richer, more real story. That’s my hope anyway.
October will bring *daily* prep updates for NaNoWriMo. Also some scary stuff. The haunted house near me opens this weekend!