What to Include and How Much?

I write a lot of different genres, and some of my favorite ones are the ones where I make up worlds of my own. I can do or have anything happen in these worlds. I can toss the rules out the window. I also love to write stories that take place in the past. The medieval era is one of my favorite times and I can toss a few rules out when dabbling in the past as well.
But there are times when research is essential, no matter where or when the tale takes place. For instance, the Bayou Magiste Chronicles all take place in an alternate version of modern-day New Orleans and the surrounding area. Since the location is real, I need to make sure I am up to speed on the modern culture, the history of the city and the general flavor of the area. In the Warrior’s books, the research needs to be a bit more in-depth. Since there are real historical figures as supporting characters in these books, the facts need to be accurate.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to sprinkle the realism in with the fantasy. When I first started writing in the medieval era many eons ago, I was anxious to show how much I knew about the period, so I crammed in so many details around every event in the book that the darn thing ended up well over 120K words! I read and bought every book I could get my hands on about the area I was writing about, the people I was including and the general way of life of the time. I have a lovely library of books about the Middle Ages up to Elizabethan times.
Then the internet dawned and everything changed. For one thing, it was easier to buy all those research books online. For another, websites dedicated to every possible person, place and time popped up all over. I didn’t have to go to the book store or pore through mountains of books to find the fact I knew I had but couldn’t remember where I got it from. And I didn’t have to wait until the next day when I was writing after midnight and needed a critical piece of information. Of course, this created a whole new distraction.
It’s so easy to get caught up in research – the books were bad enough. I could spend hours reading through them, highlighting and flagging pages with places to refer back to later on. But the internet… I could spend DAYS clicking on links and uncovering new details and off I go to another site, then another, then another. Next thing you know, two hours of valuable writing time is gone. Oh, but wait, there’s one more place I need to look… poof! Another three hours gone.
I finally had to stop. I came up with a way to keep my focus on the story – mark the place in the book where I needed to confirm something and move on. Finish the scene, chapter, whatever it was that needed to get done. Then, and only then, look up the fact(s) that needed clarification. They can be added in or adjusted during revisions and future edits.
The other dilemma is determining how many of the facts to include. Too much and it’s overkill, not enough, and you can’t tell 1284 England from modern day U.S. Striking that balance can be difficult – it’s so easy to get caught up in adding everything you know. Setting the stage is one thing, piling mountains of monotonous details will send that stage crashing right down.
It’s the same thing with the BDSM aspects. When writing paranormal or historical BDSM-themed books, today’s standards and protocols don’t always apply. There are no such things as safewords in medieval Scotland and Wales (not that I’ve found, anyway and believe me, I looked!), but there sure as hell is bondage and spanking, multiple partners and the like. On other planets, where the culture revolves around submissive women and dominating men, again, the general rules don’t apply. That doesn’t mean there aren’t certain guidelines or standards to apply, they’re just different from what us Earthlings know.
Creating all these different situations requires a different kind of research – brainstorming. I am a firm believer that plotting and planning is research, just as much as looking something up in a book or online. A basic knowledge of our own world is enough to start the creation of another, but the details of that world still need to be spelled out clearly. Which circles right back around again to how much should be included? You want the reader to get a real visual for your world, whether it’s a time long ago, or a place on a distant planet, but you don’t want to bog it down with too many details.
Striking the balance is something I’ve learned to do much better these days, though, with each book, when I get to the final edits, I always find something in there that I have way over-killed, or even under-killed! Usually, it’s the former – I am a bit too wordy for my own good. And like all writers, every word is near and dear to me, cutting them out is like picking yourself with a needle. Over and over and over again.
I have learned to be ruthless – while some information is fascinating, and usually spurs the hunger to learn even more, sometimes it’s best just to address whatever facts there are lightly. The key, I think, is to let the characters, by their words and actions, reflect the historical data such as the laws and culture of the time, or inter-planetary customs in a galaxy far away, or even when two people, one magical, one not, interact.
At least, that’s the goal. I like to think I’ve gotten better at reducing the fat, and getting right to the meat of the story. Now if I could do that with myself! lol


A month into unemployment and I no longer feel like I’m simply on vacation. The transition wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be – though saying goodbye to the best boss I ever had and my other colleagues was difficult. The extra month of working did a lot for my self-esteem, that’s for sure. It was a reminder that I was a vital part of a successful business group who did things others couldn’t – and we were one of the leanest-staffed groups and operated in a super cost-effective manner. Sigh. All good things do come to an end.
In any case, I’ve spent the last month catching up on household chores that had long fallen by the wayside (cleaning and organizing closets, cabinets, etc.), being a SAHM and all the tasks and errands that go along with that.
And writing. I’m back in medieval England again. The intentions were to get started on my planned Viking books, but the third Warrior book, Warrior’s Possession, took over instead. My long-time critique partners know this book under a different title, and I never thought I’d ever attempt to get it out there again. But with the last two Warrior books, it made sense to go back and see how it all began.  And that’s when all the changes started. I knew I’d have to make some drastic revisions, but it seems I’d forgotten more about this book than I remembered. Not to mention finding a plot point that affected the other two books.
Gillian Marlowe is given in marriage by King Edward to one of his favorite earls. Royce Langley, known as The Panther, wants no part of marriage – he doesn’t trust women in general, but in order to subdue the Welsh rebellion for good, he has no choice. And the only way he can gain the estate is by marrying its daughter. Of course, discovering his bride is half-Welsh and is apparently keeping secrets, won’t make gaining these lands very easy on him.
In the book’s original incarnation, Royce was a much kinder hero. I’ve toughened him a bit, and given him some very naughty ideas on how to deal with his rebellious wife. Gillian, adept at using a longbow and an accomplished falconer, does not like having her freedom curtailed. Both find themselves attracted to the other, but neither wants to give in. Of course. 😉
Most women in the medieval era were, unfortunately, objects to be used by the men in their lives. But in actuality, there were some very powerful women who made their own choices and gained their own power. Eleanor of Aquitane, queen to two kings and the mother of two more, had political clout of her own and wielded it wisely.  Queen Margaret of Norway was not a woman to be dismissed, either – she united three Scandinavian kingdoms. There was Isabella, the wife of Edward II – she used her position to usurp her husband’s power and eventually have him murdered. And there were several other unmarried noblewomen who held land and could wield as much power as their male counterparts – depending, of course, on the benefits their holdings provided the king. Power was one thing, respect another, and the two didn’t always come together in a neatly wrapped package.
Gillian is cut from the same mold as some of those women – she will defend her home and her people, to the death if necessary, and fight for her own freedom. Of course, her husband doesn’t think she has the right to do so, so this naturally leads to some very interesting confrontations. And if you’re familiar with my other books, whether they be the Warrior books or others, you know how my heroes handle their women!
The difference in this book is, I think, that while Gillian was married off without her having any say in the matter, technically, she isn’t being held captive, at least in the typical sense. So even though she’s strong and capable, in a way, she is still trapped. Often, marriage or the convent were the only choices for many noblewomen, and once there, no way out. So amid the clutter of the contrived and drawn-out plot devices I’ve been deleting, a stronger Gillian has emerged, and in challenging her husband, she has created a fiery situation that neither may survive. Of course they will, if nothing else, all of my books have an HEA. They’re romances! It’s getting to that happy ending that’s the fun part!

In any case, some very powerful historical women  have helped me shape Gillian into the character she has now become. Even some more modern than just those from her time. Which women inspire you?