An evening of research

Last night I sat down to start the serious editing/rewrite phase of my pseudo weird western novella. It’s 28k words and after the first read through having just transcribed it from my notes, it comes up a little light in the descriptions and details.

I know a lot of writers who “write fat,” meaning they put in so much detail and information that most of their editing process involves deleting whole paragraphs and even pages of what, to them, is extraneous and unnecessary prose. Much of it just doesn’t advance the story. Maybe it’s info dumps or backstory that the writer put in there mostly for their own information about the characters and the story but isn’t needed for the reader to understand it.

Some writers suffer from “purple prose” and tend to describe things in too intimate a detail. The reader doesn’t need to know, for instance, that the brass lamp on the end table with the blue silk shade and little dangling white beads was purchased on an overcast day in June of 1993 by the character’s great aunt Eunice at a rummage-o-Rama in this quaint little town in Northern Wisconsin near the border to the Upper Peninsula for $7.25 from a gap-toothed, stooped old man with a foreign accent. Unless, maybe, it was stolen after Aunt Eunice’s brutal murder and later we find out the lamp was used to smuggle something people were willing to kill to retrieve.

But I don’t write fat or over write. I “write thin.” I’m an under writer. Since I don’t outline, my first draft could be considered an outline. I write minimally, without very much detail or description. I just want to get the basic story out and later I come back to flesh things out.

That’s when I add detail, describe the characters and their surroundings, and add subplots and so on.

This is what I’m starting to do with my pseudo weird western.

My character has arrived in New Orleans in 1875 by train. He goes back to watch as they “led my horse out of the livestock car.”

So I’m thinking. Horse. Horse. But what kind of horse? I start doing Internet searches. What do I know from horse breeds? What was Mr. Ed (real name Bamboo Harvester. I bet you didn’t know that)? A palomino? What the hell is that? Turns out it’s a color, golden body with a white mane and tail. Trigger was one also. But it is not necessarily a breed. So I’m looking and reading. Thoroughbred is primarily race horses. Appaloosa? It’s known for its spotted coat, but wasn’t what I was looking for. American Quarter Horse? It excels at sprinting short distances. I need stamina for my story. I need intelligence. Trainability. And it needs to be able to fight off zombie with a well-placed front hoof to the skull.

I’m thinking hot-blooded rather than warm-blooded or cold-blooded (and if you really want to know the differences, look it up like I did, but basically hot-blooded have a “hot” temperament, can be higher strung, and are more athletic while cold blooded are the bigger, heavier draft horses. Warm bloods fall somewhere in between.) Finally, after reading breed description after breed description, I settled on Arabian.

Then to be sure I didn’t offend any horse history experts, I had to figure out how readily available they were in the U.S. in 1875. As it turns out, they weren’t. There was a purebred Arabian breeder but his entire stock was wiped out during the Civil War. General Ulysses S Grant was given a couple in 1877 by the Shah of the Ottoman Empire. So if my character had a purebred Arabian, I would have to create a backstory of how he obtained it — as a gift from the man who bred them for Alexander II, the Emperor of Russia, for a favor rendered.

I went back to my manuscript and replaced “horse” with “grey Arabian stallion.” I looked at the clock. FOUR hours had passed! It was past 10pm and I was tired. I closed my laptop and relaxed with a beer, satisfied with a job well done.

Now I need to research the city of New Orleans and its surroundings as it stood in 1875. Any bets on if it’ll take more or less than four hours?



2 thoughts on “An evening of research

    • What? And miss out on all that fun research?

      I could have just left it as horse and let the reader fill it on. But to me, that would be like calling it a dog. There are so many breeds with so many distinct personalities.

      I’ll probably come back to this in a revision and have a different set of qualities I’m looking for in the horse and then change it again. Nothing is set in stone.

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