22 May 2012, Development - Historical Study, Cultural Immersion
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I'm using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I'll keep you informed along the way.
I'm writing about sources of historical research and how to make historical research. These apply to any novel or any subject you might wish to study. Here is a list:
1. Primary source documents or artifacts
2. Secondary source documents or artifacts
3. Tertiary source documents or artifacts
If you do get the history right--that is the details as well as the basics--there is another piece of history that needs to fill out your works. This additional part is cultural awareness. Here is the list of how to develop your target period for writing a historical novel.
1. Primary sources (secondary second)
2. Clean slate
3. Add in only what you find from primary sources (secondary next)
4. Cultural awareness
5. Historical feel
To gain cultural information you really have only two choices: cultural immersion and cultural study. For ancient cultures your only choice is cultural study although there are some tricks you can pull in cultural immersion to get good data.
How do you go about cultural immersion. If the culture you wish to write about exists, study the language, study the culture, and go visit. If this is your first immersion visit, you'd best live there for a while. I've discovered that without actually living in a culture long enough for it to matter, you aren't going to get any understanding of the culture. The reason is that culture shock takes a while to get over for the first time. After the first culture, others will not be so difficult. I lived in Germany for a few years. I know German well enough that most Germans think I'm Austrian. It took a few months to become fully assimilated. The Germans were great, I took a while to feel completely comfortable. Even then, although I wasn't really there to study the culture, I learned some of it the hard way. For example, I had no idea my landlord invited me to his daughter's wedding because he expected me to be one of the honored guests. German's still view class as an important determinate in life. Because I was a lieutenant, they invited my wife and me to be at the head table with them. We had no idea and skipped out after the wedding to go wine probing with some friends. That event drove home for me more than any other the enormous differences in cultures and how they affect people in the world.
I also lived for a while in Spain, Turkey, Greece, Italy, England, Panama, and Honduras. I additionally visited most of the countries in Europe, North and Central America, plus some in Asia. After the first immersion, the others were much more easy. You might ask, what is immersion anyway? Isn't it just visiting a country. The answer is no, not at all. You don't need to speak the language, but you need some degree of knowledge about it. The point of immersion is to live like and with your hosts. It does help to know the language and for your first experience, I suggest you definitely know the language.
So, the first step is to learn some of the language and use what you have learned. The second is clean slate. Just like the means of studying a culture, you should not assume the culture is like yours--it isn't. Third, be always aware of culture. If you are oblivious to it, you won't get it. The point is to get it--that's the point of immersion after all. Eat everything they serve you, and only eat what the people eat. It does you no good to eat AmerEnglish cuisine in a foreign country. If you can't get out of your AmerEnglish skin to that degree, you shouldn't travel anyway. Drink the drink they drink. If they offer you a cigar or a cigarette, smoke it. Every culture explorer should enjoy a smoke now and then.
I'll write more about cultural immersion and cultural study tomorrow.
I'll repeat my published novel websites so you can see more examples: http://www.ldalford.com/, and the individual novel websites: http://www.aegyptnovel.com/, http://www.centurionnovel.com/, http://www.thesecondmission.com/, http://www.theendofhonor.com/, http://www.thefoxshonor.com/, and http://www.aseasonofhonor.com/.