How important is research? by S M Senden

I have been complimented over and over again about the depth of my research for Clara’s Wish, and my ability to re-create another era so readers feel as if they are right there.  In preparing for an interview, someone asked me that question ‘How Important is research?’  They thought that research amounted to reading a couple of books, looking up some things on the internet and that would be it.  Then I would be ready to write a book set in another era.

I had to laugh at that, for research ~ at least for me ~ can become a deep quagmire that is difficult to extract myself.  But then I do consider myself a devoted history geek.  Once I find myself doing some research on a subject, all too soon it points me in another direction, to another book, to another set of references and so on.

I am currently researching two historical settings for two books I am writing.  The periods are sufficiently diverse that it is easy for me to keep the research separate in my mind.  One of these stories is set primarily in Europe in the late 1700’s about the time of the American Revolution, running through the French Revolution and into the Napoleonic era.

The story is about a young girl, Eleanor, who has finished her education in the French convent and comes home to live in England with her only living relative ~ her sister.  The sister has married well and has young children.  They introduce Eleanor into the society of the Bon Ton hoping to find her a suitable husband.

In researching this strata of society, I was caught up in the amazing and volatile times in which they lived.  Since I am a hopeless history geek, I like to have readers learn something as well as be swept along in a good story.  Dorothy Sayers always managed to teach readers something, and I aspire to emulate her.  I read about the people that I wanted to include, in some way in my book, for their lives were extraordinary.  Some in particular are Madame Tussaud, Miss Lenormand, the Duchess of Devonshire and the possibilities that arise when the some of these people meet at Spa in Belgium with a whisper of possible spies and political intrigue.

I have no idea at this point where all my research may take me.  I have the idea for the story and what I would like to have happen to the main characters.  Yet, I do not know how this will end.  My research may change the story or it may reinforce it.  That is the process that I love, creating, pulling research and story together to make another era come alive, not just for me, but for those who read the words I have written.

So, how much research is enough?  I can only say that ~ for me ~ my research never seems to end, for it always points me in a new direction.  However, I do have to get the story written, and as I continue the research process, I can add or take something away and make corrections as I work.  Sooner or later, I will need to say, enough and hope that I have done my best to create another era and bring a fulfilling experience to my readers.

Right now, I better get back to research, for there are still so many books to read!

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