Friday, May 28, 2010

The Never-Ending Spiral of Research

I suppose there does come a point where all the research is done and there is nothing more to learn about a time and place you are writing about.

I'm currently working on a novel set in Boston in 1774-1775. There's a lot I don't know about the time and place (and the whole saga of why I've never yet been to Boston can be a post for another day), but there is a tremendous amount that can be learned from the internet and good old fashioned books.

For example. I thought I'd start the story with the beginning of the closing of the Boston Port on June 1, 1774. Then discovered that the new governor arrived in the province a couple of weeks before that. Perhaps that would make a better starting point.

Reports indicate that when General Gage (the new governor) arrived at Long Wharf he then proceeded up State Street (which would have been King Street then - thanks to an old map I found) in a parade up to the old State House.

Cool, my character can be watching the parade of people going to the State House. Sounds like a good starting point.

Then I read more. General Gage was escorted by the Boston Cadets.

Hmmm. Who were the Boston Cadets in 1774. Turns out they were headed by John Hancock and were the ceremonial military unit that did things like escort new governors.

So, that's what my character would see. And she could reflect on how smart they looked in their uniforms.

But, wait. What did those uniforms look like? Back to Google.

It turns out the uniforms were Scarlet coats with Buff trim. The waist-coat and breeches were white. The buttons were plain metal washed with silver.

And what did all of this research get me? Well, my main character can correctly observe that the breeches were a stark white in the May sunshine.

And I wonder why I only got a paragraph written yesterday.

(By the way if anyone knows what the weather was like on May 17, 1774 in Boston, feel free to share that information - my research didn't uncover that tidbit.)


  1. Oh, I know just what you mean... especially with my Boston story set a decade after yours. I'm trying to be better about writing first and worrying about details second, but at this point I'd be happy with any writing at all.

    By the way, I'm moving to Boston this fall for grad school, so you should totally bring Harry and Pippi up for a long weekend or something. The Freedom Trail and stuff like that is so much better when there's kid-enthusiasm involved.

  2. I second a Boston trip, Chris! Your research sounds fun. Good luck with your writing!

  3. Research is tough. Have you tried this site?

    All the best,

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse