The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for July, 2011

Rounding Up The Regular Research Resources

Posted by BigWords on July 26, 2011

or, How To Find Stuff Without Going Insane

I already have a Resources page, but this addresses a wider need for basic information.

If you have already read through yesterday’s post, you might be forgiven for thinking that research is an ultimately aggravating experience, but if you want to know certain minor details about a specific area – say, for example, train times in Victorian England – you will be pleased to know that the resources for nearly everything have come on in leaps and bounds. It may surprise some, but this is, in part, thanks to a particularly Victorian kind of individual – the hobbyist. Oh, and those timetables? Why, they are right here, if you are desperate to find out the exact times…

Nearly anything which falls under the Common / Everyday Knowledge category – no matter how ephemeral the original content was intended to be – has been preserved by someone. Indeed, as collectors of the everyday have begun to pool resources, the amount of material uploaded to the internet has exponentially increased. It isn’t just public notices and pamphlets which are now available to all; there are more esoteric things you can find out online, and from the strangest of places – Whitstable ‘phone numbers from the 1920s? I have that covered. For all the large, complex databases which have been made available, sometimes it is the small things which really matter.

Current information, which is normally copyrighted by the originator, is a touchier part of research – for every piece of information freely available, to copy, save, share, and disseminate freely, there are a dozen (often vital) pieces of information which are considered as being the property of an individual or (more often than not) an organization. Wherever I have culled some critical note from a primary or secondary source, I tend to make deliberate use of links back to the place I found the information. In print, and as part of a larger work, this might become more problematic, though I consider the relationships built through open cooperation to be of great value.

When it comes to research, we are not just the sum of our work, we are the sum of our connections.

I really wish I didn’t have to point this out, but simply heading for the first available mention of the subject you are researching isn’t going to help you. People seem to have become incredibly lazy when it comes to finding reference works – the main objective in the first four hours of researching a subject is to make a comprehensive list of acknowledged experts in the field, who might be able to shed light on hidden aspects of the material. Simply gathering information at the early stages of a project is likely to frustrate, so by gathering resources quickly you’ll see that the eventual collection of data is much easier and more accurate …which is where I should pimp back-issues of Book And Magazine Collector for it’s reading lists.

Now for music…

To sharpen your skills at uncovering information quickly and accurately, start playing a multi-discipline version of Five Degrees Of Separation. Look beyond the simple task of connecting individuals, and attempt to connect a place (Paris, perhaps) with a book (pick your favorite non-French title here), a song (try Oye Como Va, above) with a car (maybe an Austin Cooper) or some other combination of subjects – once you have this initial connection, try adding other elements. It is by removing obvious conclusions that you can start stretching your ability to uncover obscure and occluded facts.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Difficulties Of Research In The Internet Age

Posted by BigWords on July 25, 2011

Writing about doing research makes up for a large percentage of things written about writing. However clunky that sentence is, it is a reminder that there are aspects to any story which require some thought and preparation – often in areas which are, due to reasons ranging from the age of the individual to their location, rather obscure. Going into this post, I was acutely aware that there are things others have pointed out which contradict my views on research, but there’s enough room in this subject (by merit of scope) that taking a fresh approach might open up new ideas for people to consider. Which brings me to the first of my points – the strata of research.

1 Common / Everyday Knowledge

This is the easy stuff to find out, as there are multiple ways to tackle acquiring the information, but it is still going to evade your grasp if you aren’t asking the right questions. It isn’t too hard to frame some of the material in context either, as this is the preserve of the everyday. One small concern when using the regular, routine and mundane material is redundancy – how many times do we need to be told that it is not advised to walk out into traffic? Interestingly, it is often in SF that these irritating chunks of information are passed around, as if they are great insights.

2 Location / Era Specific Common Knowledge

This is the follow-on from the first category, and whilst the information is still as readily available, it may be restricted to certain areas of research. A good example of this is one of my obsessions – yes, I’m back to talking about pop culture. It may be almost unheard of today, when the young ‘uns are too fidgety to sit through a black and white film in peace, but back in the Good Old Days ™ there were cartoons, newsreels, and even a completely free of charge B-movie thrown in to the cinema experience. Music used to be (at most) three or so minutes – with certain exceptions – and there was no crime; crime having been invented in 1973. That last bit of information might be a lie…

Actually, that was put there to show just how easily a person can be led by misinformation which has crept into the historical record through incorrect assumptions being given more weight than they really deserve. There was a page on Wikipedia, for example, which had a bit about a British comic running at a loss, and as there was no way to prove the information incorrect it was kept up, despite being a lie. It may not seem like something which people should get upset about, but every piece of incorrect data in a work of reference is another problem to overcome for historical accuracy.

3 Individual / Group / Company Specific Knowledge

This is where things take a sharp incline into “difficult” – researching things which are common knowledge to a small group of individuals, though may be completely unknown outside of that area, is one of the most frustrating things I have had to do. When you find someone willing to talk, the danger of them providing unsubstantiated information gets increasingly complex. There’s going to be more on this in a later post, and I’ll throw a few of the things I use to overcome this.

4 Specialist – General Information

This is knowledge which is specific to one area (diamond-cutting, car manufacture, publishing) which can be adapted for fictional uses, or supplemented for use within another area. It’s less difficult than it used to be researching this, as there are now multiple titles which offer introductions to areas which, until very recently, might have been the preserve of those who would enter the profession to gain knowledge of the ins and outs.

5 Specialist – Secrets

This is where “difficult” enters the realms of “impossible” to all but the most dedicated of researchers. You can be guaranteed that you will come up against heavy resistance to any kind of research which is regarded (rightly or wrongly) as being a secret. Of course, having pried a few of these out of people in the past (and accidentally revealing some) I know there are ways to get around the wall of silence. You might want to think twice before you publish anything which falls under this heading, as people take a harsh view of those who would expose things they want kept under wraps.

I’m going to take a longer view of this later.

6 Undiscovered Knowledge

And we come to the highest tier of the WTFery that anyone could possibly hope to research.

For all the vaulted merits of the internet, and the mass of information on tap 24 hours a day, wherever you happen to be, there are some things I can bet you won’t be able to easily track down. I know this. I’ve already looked. If, for example, a person was to write something about Wikileaks, where do you think the narrative would have to begin? Take a moment to think about this, because the question isn’t so easy…

Do you have an answer yet?

Aaaaaand… You’re wrong. Whatever you thought there, the correct answer isn’t 2010 (when traditional news outlets got their panties in a twist), 2006 (when the site was founded), nor 1971 (Julian Assange’s birth), because that does not cover the history of an individual taking it upon himself to reveal embarrassing facts regarding a political group or movement. In fact, if you want to write about Wikileaks there seems to be a precedent buried in the history books – way back in 1767 in the letters column of the London newspaper Public Advertiser, published by Henry Woodfall.

Of course, the newspaper seems to have completely vanished from anywhere accessible via the internet (if it was ever was available, that is), and none of the usual routes seem to take me closer to a copy of the letter pages, so Junius’ scathing indictment of King George III, and his parliament must remain under the “unverified” column. My notes don’t reveal where I found that nugget of historical information – and I’m not entirely sure that the information is even correct, as the newspaper isn’t available to check, so as a fact (or lack of a fact) it sits uneasily in a netherworld of things which I have yet to get around to. Cue epic headache, and the eternal frustration of research.

I’m probably going to take an especial interest in this area, so be prepared for a massive rant dialogue on the annoyance of trying to find something which has yet to be properly documented.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

AW Blog Chain – Mini Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Posted by BigWords on July 9, 2011

This month’s AW Blog Chain is entitled “The Mini Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest” and, in the spirit of the great man (no laughing, please) we are obliged to provide the most overwrought, turgid, purple or just plain bad writing. Don’t worry, this is merely one of those “first line” challenges, so it won’t take up too much of your time. I went into this imagining that it would be a relatively quick bit of business to churn out something awful (hell, I write awful prose all the time), and as you’re probably wondering just how hard it it to write something deliberately badly…

In the early Tyburn evening, and under her light muslin veil, Mme. Vendredi – honored envoy of the court of von Bismarck – could almost have passed for beautiful, were it not for the pallor of the grave which hung around her.

Man, this is harder than it looks… Okay, so cod-Victoriana was probably the wrong choice to try, given that overblown hyperbole was practically invented for Victorian writers to play with. How about hokey space opera?

The Celestial Wanderer, flagship of the Covenant Of Worlds, had cowered in the Newt Nebula for three solar days before Captain Washington laid down the order to emerge, the cosmic war cannons readied for engagement.

Dammit. Still not hokey enough for the requirements of this challenge. Onto hard boiled, methinks…

The dame with the dirty blonde hair leaned forward and exhaled a mouthful of smoke in coiling whisps as tangled as the case,  her cigarette hanging limply on her lower lip.

Bad enough yet? Sigh. Probably not. The others playing in this months AW chain are as below; go give them some love. Maybe they’ll be better at manipulating their first sentences into a more suitable form for the sake of this (friendly) competition.

dolores haze
Ralph Pines
Diana Rajchel

Posted in Misc., writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 22 Comments »

More Linkies

Posted by BigWords on July 1, 2011

Characters outnumbered against incredible odds? Oh yes, this is just what I go for. From 300 to Assault On Precinct 13, through Zulu, watching individuals take a stand against immeasurable odds has fascinated me since I was a brat – some might argue that I’m still a brat, but whatever… There’s something about watching doomed causes which relieves the boredom of the horribly egocentric films in which individuals take on armies and win.

Fans of eighties macho bullshit films need not complain.

Why people shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that a word they don’t recognize is automatically a typo? Well, Lori has that covered. There’s probably good reason for me to add here (while I am in the mood to share) that I am keeping a folder of obscure words for the very purpose of dropping them into sentences when nobody seems to be paying attention. The hirplan way that things meander along means that I get more than enough opportunity to be mean and confuse people.

Gratuitous nudity in literary adaptations? Check. 😀

There are some lessons guys need to learn. Seriously… I still find it hard to imagine any sane guy asking a woman how she feels about oral on a first date.

Guys – what the fuck is wrong with you?

Top 10 YA Fantasy from debut authors.

And some love for The Crow.

For a very special link – King Arthur’s legend. There’s a lot of Arthurian bits and pieces in one of my WIPs, mostly because mo much of modern life has elements of the legends woven through it. There’s a satellite array, the national lottery, security software… It’s almost too easy to weave all those disparate elements together, though (as far as I am aware) there is no true connection between those using the names of characters and places from the myths.

I had thought that I would be done by now, but the sheer amount of things which have gone untended this past couple of months is astronomical – linkies will continue to appear until I am done, and thus able to give enough attention to the writing of interesting posts.

Posted in Misc., writing | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »