Learning to Read

I had to do a little research and a little decision-making tonight for Mara’s Tale.

She’s starting to learn to read, which is awesome and will set up several other scenes to come.  However, she’s learning to read in a fantasy world with technology similar to the middle ages or Renaissance, from a herbalist in the poor district of town.  This means I can’t have her using lined paper and a pencil, the way I learned to read and write.  What would she use?  Slate and chalk?  Charcoal and… what?  The little research I could do online turned up quill pens and ink on paper, or even pencils.  I’m not sure that the poor herbalist would have access to those, at least not to waste on a child’s practicing.  For a few moments I was stumped.

Of course, this isn’t historical fiction, so in the end I decided to use a variation of it.  Rough paper, probably made nearby, and a charcoal stick seemed to work well for the tale and feel like something that the herbalist would have at her disposal.

Additionally, I remembered that spelling wasn’t standardized until much later (at least, in real history) so I made it a point not to have Mara spell out words or refer to letters explicitly.  It made the section a little trickier to write, but it worked out ok (at least for now).


Monster Research

There is a scene in my head for my NaNo novel that required some research.  I did that research the other day, and discovered that the information I need is not immediately available on the internet.  I found it, with a little searching, but it shouldn’t have been that hard.  I was only trying to find the names of monsters that take on a female shape to suck the life from men.

It turns out that most female spirits/monsters/nasty things either are more interested in stealing children, or luring men to their doom.   They are also frequently tied to a specific location (water seems to be a common theme).  There aren’t actually that many monsters that keep their men alive for very long, but I did find a couple.  Fortunately, that’s all I need.  It turned out to be a lot of research for a very brief mention in the (as yet unwritten) novel.  It’s important, though, and since I’ve done the research in advance I won’t have to pause in the writing to compile a list.

By the way, the antagonist in my novel is not a female monster who slowly sucks the life out of her victims.  It’s simply a theory that gets suggested as the main characters are trying to figure out what’s really going on. 🙂

Two Days of Revisions, part 2

Today I got to write some new stuff for Dragon.  It turned out to require some walking and some research.

The first research was easy; I called my sister last night.  How is that research?  Well, I needed a sisterly perspective on a conversation between the two sisters in my story.  It turned out to be a good call, too, because my sister’s first reaction to the scenario was “Are you nuts?”  She hasn’t read the story, so it even added an extra element.  I had to explain the situation to her, and answer her questions, which I could then take from to have one sister explain and the other ask questions.

I spent some time walking, and sitting, in the Japanese Garden.  (The waterfalls were lovely, as were the plants, but the school kids were kind of distracting.)  It’s amazing how going someplace outside of my usual routine is a great way to focus my creative thoughts.  I  completed a couple of new scenes that added to the development of the climax in that process.  During lunch I kept working and finished another small transition that needed to be totally reworked.  After that all that I had left was a major rework of the ending.

The research for the ending was less fun, and a spoiler.  (That’s your warning.)  I got to read all about how to help someone recover from the unexpected loss of a loved one.  I’m still working on that section, but most of what I read matches well with my new plan for the end.

There’s your update on my writer’s retreat!  Now, back to writing – I’m hoping to get all of the new stuff drafted today.  After that, I’ll just need to do a bit of revising on the stuff I wrote today, and the second draft will be complete!

Falconry in Fantasy

Falconry shows up regularly in fantasy, both books and movies.  It’s a good way to add dimension to a world and to give it a time period.  It’s also something that can make a character seem impressive.  It adds that “Wow, the guy is carrying a falcon” effect.  With only about 2000 falconers in the country, plus the several hundred bird trainers that work at zoos and other facilities, odds are pretty good that most of the readers and viewers that interact with this ancient sport will not have much of a knowledge base.  This means that many authors take the shortcut of making it up.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers with no knowledge.

I have never been a falconer (although I was married to one for a while) but I do have a reasonable background in the care and training of birds of prey.  Since falconry has been around for 4000 years, we figure the techniques they use are pretty well established.  Why fix it if it isn’t broken?  This means that I am fairly well-versed in hawking and could probably find my way around a medieval mews without a guide.

If I come across falconry in a movie or book that is done incorrectly, I lose all respect for the author.  The reverse is also true.  If I find an author with a well-researched, accurate description of a mews (Cecilia Dart-Thornton has an excellent example in one of the books of her Bitterbynde trilogy.) I know that he or she has taken their time to do their homework.  I will now give them credibility in all areas, not just falconry.

Of course, knowing this about myself means that I have a drive to make sure I do my research.  If I’m including something with which I am less than familiar, I want to make sure that the reader who may know more than me doesn’t figure that out.

Steps to a Story: Math

In case you hadn’t already noticed, I am a stickler when it comes to details and continuity in my stories.  For Matthew’s story, that means it’s time for a little math.

When I hooked up the spare hard drive to pull some pictures off my camera tonight, I took the opportunity to transfer a few more Queen’s Butterflies files at the same time.  Two of those were important for Matthew’s story: the list of characters from the novel and a plot timeline I created when writing Butterflies.  Fortuitously, I had gone back further than I remembered when I created the timeline, and I had a lot of dates for the royal family, including the years of each king’s reign. 

While Butterflies has the year listed at the beginning of each chapter, the actual number doesn’t matter for Matthew’s story.  Instead what I needed to figure out is who is the king during the story.  The two necessary timelines for this were relatively easy.  I had the ranges for the kings, so all I had to do was count backward to when the story takes place in Matthew’s life based on the birth of his daughter.  (Does that count as a spoiler when I said up front that I was working on the story of a character’s father?  I mean, it is assumed that he will have at least one child, yes?)

Needless to say, it was simple math and I figured it out.  Brannon was king when Matthew’s story takes place.  I hadn’t realized how close this story is in time to Butterflies; Brannon is still king (albeit a bit older) when the novel begins.

And you didn’t believe your 4th grade teacher when she told you math was important in every career…  🙂

Steps to a Story: More Research

I mentioned in an earlier post that starting a story required some research into some of my existing writing, particularly because Matthew’s story is a pseudo-prequel.  It turns out that I had to go back again into my documents folder to find a few more tidbits of info.  The first time I researched Matthew, and what I knew of him from his appearances in Butterflies.  This time, I needed an army refresher, along with a little bit of Diaean history.

My original thought was to have Matthew as a lieutenant in the army at the start of the story.  In my army, a Lieutenant has command of a troop of soldiers, including 3 sergeants.  His troop along with two others make up a company, led by a captain.  This would work for the story fine, except when I pulled out my army documents and did the math I realized that there are too many soldiers for the job they are assigned to handle.  Including officers, this would have Matthew traveling with 147 other fighters.  That seemed like an awful lot to send to deal with a handful of bandits on the border, especially when the soldiers are simply reinforcements.

So I rearranged a bit and have now cast Matthew as a sergeant.  His troop (led by a lieutenant) is marching north to join the other two troops of their company on the border.  This means he is in charge of 15 soldiers, and the traveling group is now 49 total.  I like these numbers better.  It also means that the skirmishers (which make up the whole group) can be a specialized group within a more diverse company.

The bit of Diaean history that I needed was the names of the kings.  I need to know the name of Stefan’s heir (he reorganized the army, so he gets mentioned) and I will need to do some history math to figure out which of Stefan’s line is king during the story.   Unfortunately those documents are on my spare hard drive but not on my laptop – I will have to dig a little more to get these final details.  For now the king’s names get to be *Old King* and *Current King* in the draft of the story, at least until I feel like scavenging their real names.  🙂

The Most Boring Thing I Ever Wrote

In May of 2009, I graduated with my master’s degree.  As you may know, this type of degree usually requires a master’s thesis to go along with it.  I completed a thesis, including presenting and defending it, but that was not the end of it.

My thesis advisor warned me during the writing process that a thesis is the most boring thing you will ever write, and it’s true.  I am passionate about the subject of my research, and I can talk at length about it when asked.  However, the document itself is 100+ pages of research-speak, liberally sprinkled with charts full of data.  Not really a page-turner.

Now it has come back into my life.  In November (which is rapidly approaching) I will be presenting said research at a national conference.  This means that I get to once again familiarize myself with the material.  You guessed it; I now have to read the most boring thing I ever wrote.

After I finish, I might read Butterflies again.  It’s definitely not boring…  and I wrote that, too.

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