Monday, February 21, 2011

How far do you go for your craft?

I have always been fond of linguistics.

A few years ago, I tried to teach myself to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, because, well, why not? I still kind of want to do that, but there aren't many reliable resources online, and I am definitely the sort of person who learns better with a teacher. Unfortunately, there aren't many people teaching ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that don't also come with a (typically expensive) degree-granting institution.

So I will file that away as a "someday" dream and focus on something else instead. Like other ancient languages.

My current/ brand new WIP is a story set in ancient times in northern Italy. And it has to be set there, for a very good reason, I assure you. But the problem is that northern Italy's ancient (and I mean ANCIENT) history isn't very well known. The stone age in the north just wasn't as well-preserved as that of England, or Ireland, or even Crete or France. There isn't a whole lot of info there.

I wrote two pages on this story and then stopped when I realized that I didn't even know what to call my characters. Stone Age names aren't exactly common, you know. And it's not like Bob or Sue would work.

Therefore, I've been spending the last month, since I got said Shiny New Idea, researching. Because the Stone Age is not my general strong point when it comes to history. And I love nothing if not a challenge.

Last night, after some digging around in the (very, very few) resources online, I stumbled across the answer-- a basic linguistic dictionary for the Stone Age. And voila, another couple of hours later, I had names.

Such a small thing, to name a character. I know some writers put a lot of thought into their names. I never really have. They are simply who they come to me as. If they feel like a Ryan, or a James, or a Margie, they will be one. This is by far and away not only the most thought I've put into a handful of names, but the most time and effort, as well. But I actually had fun doing it, because of how much I love language. It was fun to piece together their names, load them with meaning that likely I will ever only know, and finally bring them to life within the pages of my Word doc.

And that is how I am approaching this book. Effort, yes, but also learning about a gap in my knowledge. And who knows, it might even be worth it!

Okay, okay-- it's always worth it to let the story unfold.

How far have you reached to learn something for your writing?


Amalia Dillin said...

Is this very basic linguistic dictionary by any chance available online? Because that would be an AWESOME resource to have on hand.

I'm facing a bit of the same thing in the Nordic Bronze age. I'm afraid I might have to make do with Old Norse there, but I'm still looking!

C. N. Nevets said...

Stone age... neolithic or paleolithic?

Sorry; archaeologist asking.

Unknown said...

I love the research stages of writing! My problem is that research necisarily leads to more knowledge and knowledge always leads me to more shiny ideas. Shiny ideas in turn lead to more research and . . . I start to realize that I have outiines, timelines, and character sketches for a good dozen novel ideas but no actual chapters. Not always a progressive process but always lots of fun.

And I must say, you've gone from Noridic folk lore to the deep south to victorian England to modern US to stone age Italy. Where will you think of next?

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

I'm so excited for your shiny new idea! Good for you to tackle one with lots of research. And it sounds very interesting...can't wait to read a bit of it! Maybe once I get a novel or two under my belt I could do a more research-intensive one. For now I'm just happy I'm writing!

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

Oh, and I haven't put much thought into my character names yet either. Just whatever pops into my head and feels right. Like the other day I made up "Ally" for the main character's best friend. I kinda like it :).

Court Ellyn said...

Hmmm, I guess two measly years of Spanish and one semester of college linguistics helped me concoct my own language for a particular novel series. I also delved into Gaelic and Turk for different languages. Lots of fun.

But the best research by far was the actual tour of European castle ruins (at long last). My mind couldn't conceive of the scale, and my gosh, those walls are thick!

L. T. Host said...

Amalia-- it is!

Nevets-- Neolithic.

K.-- LOVE Ally! Perfect!

Taryn-- Research is both fun and frustrating to me. I'd much rather be writing, but I feel like I can't until I understand the world I'm writing in. Some places have been easier as I have the knowledge already, or at least enough know-how to make it up. The stone age is completely new to me though!

And when you put it like that... I really am crazy, haha.

Court-- LUCKY. I want to go to Europe so badly!

K. Marie Criddle said...

It's soooo true. I think what makes a solid writer is (among many other things) someone who gets the details right...or at least builds such a strong world around each one of those details that it SEEMS right. Yay for research! It makes things go smoother, that's for sure.