Writing Detours

I write historical romance. I love taking a break from the crazy modern world and immersing myself in another time. But of course, to be a historical author requires research, which I love. My husband calls me the research weasel, and he knows that within minutes I can usually find the answer to whatever question arises. Sometimes I suspect he does this in order to distract me, but never mind–it always works. It’s “oh, look, a squirrel!” for geeks.

albino squirrel

Anyway, my research wanderings often interrupt the flow of my writing, although I try to keep that to a minimum by doing quite a bit of research before I start. The heroine in my first book is a cook, which required me to find recipes from 1866. On rare occasions I made a few things, with mixed results. On the second page of the book I needed the heroine to mail a letter, which naturally required an hour of research into the English postal system in 1866. Then the heroine needed to take a train to Durham, which required two hours of research into train fares and timetables in, yes, 1866.  Now you might think this was not so important, and indeed, the stamp question really wasn’t, impacting, as it did, exactly one sentence in one scene. The train question, however, had an impact on what time of day she had to leave London, how long it took her to get where she was going, and how much money she would need, and it framed several scenes. In the end, I couldn’t find some of the answers, and I took a little bit of literary license because if I didn’t, I’d be flying to York to visit the National Railway Museum. Which would be awesome, but somewhat impractical.

When I sit down with a book idea, I try to anticipate most of the research questions I’m going to have before I start to write. This approach does give fewer opportunities for meandering, which is generally a good thing for one’s productivity. Sometimes I will come across a research question while writing, and I’ll put a question in brackets in the text, and will come back to it later. But some questions you absolutely must answer before you can keep going, and these are the ones that drive me crazy, because sometimes there is no answer, or not one that’s easily found. Do I spend hours researching, or do I just skip the scene and go back to it later? I am new enough to writing that I don’t have a method that works for me yet–maybe I never will, but perhaps that’s okay too.

So I am curious, writer friends. How much research do you do when you write, and at which stage in the process do you do it? How many squirrels do you chase?

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About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

9 Responses to Writing Detours

  1. Becky Lower says:

    I spend a great deal of time in advance doing research. For my next historical, I’ve already read three books on the Pony Express, I have notes on horse behavior and on blacksmithing. But, I’m sure while I’m writing it, there will be a squirrel or two pop up.

  2. Molly McLain says:

    I write contemporary, so I don’t do much research at all. On occasion I’ll need to verify accuracy of something (like what kinds of conditions are necessary for a building inspector to shut down a renovation or what rank is/was my military hero). Some research is fun to me and some is just a PITA. Just depends on the subject, I guess. I can guarantee, however, that if I need to find visual inspiration for a male character…I’m gonna research the heck out of that until I find just the right pic. 😉

  3. IreAnne says:

    I’m like you, it depends. I will sometimes put the question in brackets and sometimes it requires I do the research at that time in order for me to keep moving forward with the story. The hard part is that I get lost in my research and then I don’t seem to get as much writing as I want done 🙂 I’ll figure it out eventually LOL

  4. This is why I write contemporary. 😉 But my most recent book involved two chefs (and I am far from being a chef myself), so it took quite a bit of research, and that research always left me hungry!

  5. Lynn Crain says:

    I love doing research but it can be a time suck if one isn’t careful. Still, the writing is sometimes superseded by the love of learning new things.

    My research is definitely in the realm of new things as I love finding out more and more about new technology. Once I have it down, I twist it to use in my sci-fi romance. Fun stuff.

    Thanks for sharing, Marin…I forget just how important research is sometimes.

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