c.e. taillefer

July 5, 2011

Doing the Research (also some reviews)


When I was in university, I put off writing creative fiction, because essay-writing was so time-consuming, I didn’t have the energy to put pen to paper at the end of the day.  But I never stopped reading at night before bed.  I figured if I wasn’t writing, at least I wasn’t letting my creative brain wither and die either.  (And to be perfectly honest, the nights I went straight from the computer or TV to sleep ended with horrible, repetitive nightmares about IM or video games.  You ever try to attend a morning class after spending all night catching every single pokemon?  YEAH.)

If only I had caught one of these before bed…

Reading while writing creatively is an interesting exercise however.  Like writing research papers, you’ve gotta keep current and do the research.  You’re not taking notes the way you would for a paper, because you’re not going to be citing someone verbatim in your story typically, but you are keeping track of what’s useful and what isn’t for the future.  You have to tightrope walk a line where you’re keeping up with the genre you’re working in (for me historical fiction/fantasy), but at the same time you don’t necessarily want it to be too similar lest you find yourself reaching for phrases as you write, and coming out with stuff from the book you just read rather than your own grey matter.  Or you find yourself thinking about your story while you read, often in situations (like late at night) when you can’t exactly put down the book you’re reading and go whomp out a few chapters. At least not when 7AM comes hard and fast in the morning.

I had spent some time getting caught up with ASOIAF in anticipation of the new book dropping this month, and actually it’s a good compromise: GRRM’s world is historical, in that it’s a fantastical re-telling of the War of the Roses but also contains magical elements.  I’ve read the whole series a couple of times, so it’s easy to just let the words carry me away as I read, and pick up on neat clues I missed my first or second read.

One of my favourite historical fiction authors, Margaret George, published a new book recently as well, Elizabeth I. To my surprise, it covered only the Golden Age period of Bess’ life – 1588 to her death in 1603, dealing mostly with the Spanish invasions, and the Earl of Essex’ total bumblefuck in Ireland and his subsequent rebellion.  While exciting in concept, the reality of Elizabeth’s experiences both with the Spanish Armadas and Essex were pretty remote – all of the fighting happens away from court, where she is safely ensconced for the bulk of the novel, and the novel is written in the first person.  George is tirelessly faithful historian in this instance.  It doesn’t always make for an exciting book, but her skill at writing means Elizabeth I was still incredibly compelling.  And of course, first person POV historical fiction is of especial interest to me right now.  In fact, one of George’s earlier books, Mary, called Magdalene is one of the books that got me thinking about writing my own historical novel set around the time of Jesus’ ministry.

I briefly tried reading Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen, another book about the War of the Roses, but reading five massive books about politics and machinations has thoroughly burned me out, so instead i moved to Lauren Oliver’s YA dystopian novel, Delirium, where love is considered a disease of the nervous system, and a cure has been created for all people over the age of 18.

Wow. I haven’t read Divergent yet, and I’m only half-way through Oliver’s book, but if there’s a spiritual successor to the Hunger Games out there, I think Delirium is going to be it.  The writing is tight and intense, and the gradual release of details about the history of the protagonist’s family, but also the society she lives in is really satisfying.  Also, to appease the world-building dork in me, each chapter begins with quotes from books, songs and government pamphlets – not enough to drown the reader, but to give a creepily realistic feel to the culture Lena lives in.

So there you go.  To understand why I write, I’ve got to understand why I read. This is only a small part, but an extremely important one.  Without excellent writers out there showing me the way, I might not have known there was a way.


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