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Researching by Gaslight

So this is the beginning of the third week of my Lenten write-a-novel-a-thon, and I am doing all right. I am five chapters and 7736 words in, though some of it is in no particular order. You can do this in a multi-part novel, I guess, since the second part flashes back to a period in the heroine’s past which helps to explain her behavior throughout the rest of the novel. Either way, it helps with consistency, because with the Scrivener program you can change the settings and can view two scenes in one window. So while working on a scene in the present, I can make notes or create a scene from the heroine’s past which ties things together.

But enough about the marvels of the writing program that is Scrivener. I’m here today to talk about the part of novel writing that can be fun, difficult, and time-consuming: research. It can involve a day at the library and a few too many hours of scouring the Internet. Sometimes there is a lot of information, and sometimes there isn’t. And sometimes there is so much information that it is overwhelming that you need to take a step back and a break from it.

And sometimes the research can be a lot to handle. Because this particular novel I am working on is a sort of historical murder mystery with paranormal elements, there is a lot to take in. The murders in this novel are based on actual murders, and I did find the information, including contemporaneous newspaper reports, but still I find that I sometimes have a difficult time looking at it, particularly before bed. It can induce nightmares, but I can say that I haven’t had those yet, mostly because I don’t look at it before I go to bed.

There is something so exciting about trying to write a good gaslight mystery.

Someone might ask why I would want to write about such a topic, and as a lover of Victorian gothic and sensation novels I can only answer this: there are some real-life mysteries that have never been solved, and there aren’t always intrepid heroes who will do everything in their power to catch the killer, bring them to justice, and avenge the victim. And writers like me who want to see justice done but who are powerless to bring it about then turn around and create our resolution to the mystery. We also tell the story and bring to life the sights, smells, and sounds of a world long gone so that not only we can understand, but so the readers can understand.

And there is always something about that good sense of time and place that just adds that certain something to a story. So I guess pride must suffer pain. Just as I roll my eyes at Weir Mitchell’s essay Fat and Blood, I make myself remember that these people are long dead, and that there is nothing more that I can do than to tell their story to the best of my ability. Because in the end, it’s the story that counts, and that I try to tell the stories of those who have been all but forgotten to the best of my ability.

9 replies on “Researching by Gaslight”

I’m a bit of a research aholic too. For the story I’m working on now I found myself going through census records to pick out an authentic sounding name for a character living in rural Montana in the 1870’s. I have to watch myself though because “research” can quickly become “procrastination” for me. Everything is so interesting.

I really like it, and there are some authors who do, too.  It offers all sorts of views for your manuscript and options for drafting or notes, all in one program.  You can adjust the panes and everything.  I know they have a free trial; I would look into it.  It helped during NaNoWriMo because you can also set word count targets.

Things I like:

– Efficient use of screenspace. I’m on a laptop and I often need to have various text things open at once. Scrivener condenses this all into one program (if I so choose) so I have my research and character backstory or description or whatever onscreen as I’m writing.

– Handy little word count trackers. I just like this for motivational purposes.

– The no-interruptions mode. Where you can white out the rest of your screen and just focus on the words at hand.

Those are couple of things that spring to mind immediately. It’s a bit buggy on the Windows platform, I’ve noticed, but still worthwhile (it’s a bit finicky when it comes to typeface and such when pasting text into your document). And you get a free thirty non-consecutive day trial. So you should try it before you buy it.

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