The Journey Part Three: Using Your Research
So last time I talked about finding sources. This time I’ll talk about how I incorporated the research into my novel. Here is kind of how I thought about it:
1) Insert only relevant facts
The easiest thing to incorporate into my book was facts. Solid facts from solid evidence. Foods they ate, clothes they wore, specific architecture, though incidentally this type of information was the hardest to find. It was tempting to just throw in everything I read and learned while trying to create a setting for the novel, but after doing this a few times and boring even myself during revisions, I learned quickly to only add relevant details. Gone were the details about wars that were fought that my character might not have known about. And I didn’t even try to talk much about building materials. Remember, this is a story, not a research paper! This of course meant that I didn’t use most of what I learned and I will just have to live with that.
2) Change the story if necessary
Okay, so while I was doing research it became obvious that some of my plot ideas weren’t going to work out. For example, I wanted the bad guy to end up in jail at one point, but…it turned out there wasn’t a jail! Things just didn’t work that way in 11th century South India, so I ha to come up with something else.
Don’t be afraid to do this if you need to. You want your story to be as accurate as you can make it. That being said…
3) Don’t be afraid to take some liberties with history
A lot of arguing goes on about whether you should be allowed to make up events about historical figures, particularly in children’s literature. Because if you write it in a book, kids may believe it really happened.
However, my view about my story anyway is that it wasn’t intended to be a tale about a historical figure or about anything historical really–it was meant to be an adventure story that takes place in a certain time period with a few historical tidbits thrown in. I think it’s fairly obvious from my manuscript that the story didn’t really happen. While there are historical figures in the book doing things they certainly didn’t do, and while I’ve given them personalities in the book that I felt fit with the story, I don’t think this is a problem.
Why not? For many reasons, chief of which is that no one knows what these people were like. They didn’t leave behind long accounts or biographies about their lives, they left behind temple statues or carvings that stated the wars they won, etc. So if I wanted these characters to come alive, they had to seem like real people. I couldn’t just not have a character say anything or do anything that might not be accurate just because I was worried it didn’t really happen. It is fiction after all… (though I did throw in an author’s note since I was worried about it!)
That’s my opinion about my story anyway. Thankfully, my time period is remote enough that no one really knows what went on. :) I might be singing a different tune if my book took place in the 20th century.
Well that’s it for now. I hope you find my account of my research useful. Any questions?