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The Return of The Bound Chronicles: Research!

February 25, 2013

Hello lovely blog readers! It’s time once again for a (long overdue) senior thesis update!

Though first a side note that I really like WordPress’s new look with Blogs I Follow more like tumblr’s dashboard. It’s pretty snazzy. I wish I had more time to read everyone’s posts, but senior thesis. Someday! Someday I will read about Muslims and Medieval Spain and Game of Thrones. It will be a brilliant day.

But! The thing that is taking up my otherwise blog-reading (and blog writing) time is senior thesis. The quick and dirty version of what’s going on is:

  1. I have completed a first draft of the entire novel.
  2. This draft is 210 pages. This is, unsurprising, the longest writing piece I have ever done. Most likely, by the end, it will be closer to 300 pages.
  3. I have sent this draft to various trusted friends and family members who have expressed interest in reading the work. Most of them also agreed to edit it, but one is just reading it for funsies, which will be interesting (I hope he likes it. He’s not really the target audience).
  4. I have also sent this draft to my two thesis readers. One of them has given me back edits on the first 70-ish pages.
  5. I have done all the superficial edits she’s given me.
  6. I still have major thematic edits to implement.
  7. Somehow, despite all this, my average sleep/eating amount is serviceable

For those who just wanted that, there you are. Below is more detailed description.

Writing is hard.

Like, headache-making hard.

So last we left off, progress-wise, at the end of December. I had what…2 chapters and a prologue done? Yes. And winter-break was beginning. During the first two and a half weeks of winter break, I was primarily doing research on general Anglo-Saxon culture, through these two books.

First was Everyday Life in Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman Times by Marjorie & C.H.B. Quennell. It’s lovely little book, the final volume in The Everyday Life series. I think its primary audience is older schoolchildren, as the voice is rather paternal and snarky, and the numerous detailed illustrations are very vividly gorgeous. The book itself was a delightful, pleasurable read–exactly what I needed coming off school–and I took extensive notes. However, when I started writing, I realized that its information was too general for historical fiction writing purposes. The overall Anglo-Saxon/Viking worldview, the pictures, the details of how buildings were constructed were great, but I needed more information. If you just want to learn about the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans, I’d still check it out. It was published in 1926, so you should find it somewhere very, very cheap or free. Actually, here it is on Amazon for $7.07.

The real gold mine for historical writing was Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England by Sally Crawford. It’s excellent. It’s organized by daily life topic such as “Societies, Taxes, Administration,” as Chapter 2 and “Housing and Households” as Chapter 3 etc. I’ll probably buy it actually. The writing is clear and detailed, and Crawford notes when historians debate over or don’t know something for certain. It does lack pictures, which is less exciting for the more visual-oriented among us, but that’s where the Quennells’ book really shone, so they ended up balancing each other. For those interested, Crawford’s Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England is available here. It’s waaaaay more expensive since it’s hardcover and published in 2009. I’m planning to buy it with Senior Thesis Grant money.

Through all this research, I’ve come to think that books organized like Crawford’s are the most useful. Before you buy a book for research, just flip to the table of contents page. The more topic organized/detailed that table of contents is the better. My favorite book, Anglo-Saxon England by F.M. Stenton had the best, most detailed, awesome league of awesome table of contents ever, and that book is worth every single penny I spent research-wise. Collections of academic essays, while valuable to historians, aren’t really as good if you’re just interested in the cold, hard facts of what Anglo-Saxons thought of sexuality and male-male relations. I have one of those books, and I gave up mining through it to just skimming through the internet. (the answer is that they thought extremely highly male-male bonds, but did not want to see homosexual acts, though I am yet unsure if these acts were criminalized).

Besides the detailed, topic-oriented chapters, my discoveries were illustrations, when to (not) make personal notes on books, and primary sources. For illustrations, pictures are really worth a 1,000 words. I’m terrible at imagining architectural dimensions in my head, but give me an illustration of that sucker and BAM, I can describe it in my prose. Same goes for clothes. Another historical fiction writer I know invested in books meant to advise theatrical directors on historical costume choices, which the author then used to grand effect in her work.

My last point is note-taking. I take very meticulous notes, so much so that I don’t need to refer to the books ever again when I’m done. However, it takes a while and when I only have April 26th (EEK) to turn in a draft I’m not totally ashamed of, I don’t have the leisure of time. So. My solution was to switch to more short term thinking. Even though Crawford’s Daily Life had more what I’m looking for, I strictly use it for reference. I haven’t written any notes on it, which is part of the reason I want to purchase it later. I don’t need to take super detailed notes on things I already own: I make my notes inside the book and then sticky note the hell out of it. I took a class on Victorian England last semester in preparation for when The Bound Chronicles reaches that period, and those textbooks are practically drowning in cut up yellow sticky note. Seriously. You can’t read it without removing fistfuls of those things. For books you’ll only own temporarily, taking the notes is still a must and you renew that sweet thing from the library as many times as you can. It clutters up my writing notebook, but you need them.

My last revelation was concerning primary sources. They are brilliant. You can use them to pick up speech patterns, historical events, investigate characters, research world views, and find out ways of living that may or may not be important plot points. I’ve been using them a lot because a significant theme in my story is stories: how they interact, predict, shape, and transmit our world. If your characters are monks like mine, it’s useful to have a copy of the Rule of their Order. I also have Asser’s Life of King Alfred, which is Alfred’s commissioned biography and a copy of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which is a historical record Alfred ordered made. Asser and Alfred are characters in my story, so hearing their own voices, and opinion of one another, across the eons is an amazing experience. If you recall from one of the very first blog posts on my thesis, the monks are in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and that’s my main historical source to legitimize their existence. It’s useful for dating and getting details of events.

You have to be careful with primary sources though. I made some really dumb mistakes along the way. Pay attention to what language it’s in. I may or may not have originally picked up a copy of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that was in Latin. My other sources are translations of Old English, since I was more careful about after downloading that one book that was in entirely Old Irish except the footnotes. Whoops. My other tip is to know the historical context of these works. Again for the Chronicle, there are multiple versions, and the dates don’t always match up among them. This is great out for my story where I conflate certain years and seasons, but if you’re trying to be super exact consider yourself forewarned.

Aaaaaand now this post is really long, so I’ll split it up. Next post will tell you the woes of my writing and now editing!

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From → Thesis

2 Comments
  1. A beautiful post, darling! I’m really thrilled to read more than the first paragraph (LOL) and mark it up all red for you. 😀 On top of all my work, but MY work doesn’t have time constraints, so it’s only fair that I do yours first, right?

    -C

    • THANK YOU CHARLOTTE. If it’s really slow going, just give it back whenever you’re finished and don’t worry about the March 30th deadline. I’ll be in contact with you post graduation, and this novel will probably still need edits.

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