★ Lost in Research-tion

I've been getting lost in research for "The Louverture Project":www.stumax.com/tlp for a lot of the past couple of weeks. I think 'lost' is the appropriate word. Not having attempted anything like a historical study before, I'm feeling a bit swamped by the task. In the past I've written sketches, plays, that kind of thing, where it's all come out of my own imagination. Or I've written corporate events, where my job was to research and synthesize material of a relatively limited scope and create a unique work. Often I've had stock characters to write for, but this job is completely different. Here, I've got a vast amount of data, an endless array of characters, far-reaching implications, and the only constraint I have to work around is a historical, verifiable time line. How do I boil this down so that it makes sense? How do I know what to capture from my research and what to leave out?

I decided that I needed some help, and lo and behold, on my bookshelf were a couple of books I had looked at but never really seen before - How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction by Persia Woolley and The Biographer's Craft by Milton Lomask. Aside from the nice surprise of having them in my collection, the books were a comfort in that it seems like most of what I'm doing at this phase is just what the books suggest - research, organize, and write as inspiration strikes. With a few tweaks and some shifts of emphasis, I feel like I'll be back on track.

Here are a few quick hits from today's reading:

  • eu·he·mer·ism, n. A theory attributing the origin of the gods to the deification of historical heroes.
  • Two major questions to ask when considering a biography are: Who will want to read it? and What makes it unique? (Woolley)
  • "Truth... makes bad fiction, but fiction should read like truth. Similarly, fiction makes bad biography, but biography should read like fiction." (Lomask, p. 2)
  • The "and" biography links two or more individuals or an individual and an event, institution, or historical period. (Lomask, p. 3)
  • "There are no rules for composition," Claude Debussy said, "but every composition makes its own rules." (Lomask, p. 5)
  • "Residue" as regards biographical subjects relates to the impact of the individual on present day or the interest which the individual holds for us. (Lomask, p. 10)
  • When you send out your biographical manuscript, an editor will want you to list what books on the subject are still in print. Consult Book Review Digest for help in finding these. (Lomask, p. 11)
  • "If you can't travel, read." (Lomask, p. 16)
  • Don't quote so much. "Good note-taking is précis writing." You're not a file clerk, you're a writer! (Lomask, p. 23)
  • Good reference material: Guide to Reference Books; Dictionary of American Biography, Notable American Women (both for dead persons); Current Biography , National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Who's Who in America, Biography Index (for live persons); American Genealogical Index, Who Was Who; and especially Writings on American History and Writings on British History.
  • "Man is not what we think he is," André Malraux wrote. "Man is what he hides."
Stuart Maxwell @stumax
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