I’ve discovered very early on that it’s incredibly challenging researching for a novel that takes place in a culture and in a place completely different from your own.
Since my book in set in Japan in the mid-Meiji era (1890), it’s posing to be a challenge. For one, as an American and “westerner” I’m not experienced in the Eastern culture, so I really have to immerse myself in books, videos and other sorts of research to put myself there and not make any major cultural gaffes.
And then there’s the language barrier…I don’t exactly speak Japanese (although I’m hoping to learn at some point). I know a few words and phrases; I know how people are addressed (-san, -chan, -sama, etc.). Still it’s difficult creating what I would think is semi-accurate dialogue.
And of course, it’s really hard setting my book in a real town that’s basically remained unchanged since that time and can only rely on pictures online and descriptions of it to put it in my book. Unfortunately, with limited income, I can’t really afford a two-week trip to Northern Japan to do the really great research I’m dying to do.
Oh and I can’t forget the whole aspect of involving the yakuza in my book. Finding detailed information on this has been frustrating at best. I’m thinking it has something to do with the fact that it’s still a bit of a taboo talking about this vast and incredibly complex “underworld.” I have found a few books and some information on the Web out there but not enough detail for the time period I’m needing. Most of the information comes from part of the Taisho period (1912-1926) and then a great deal during the Showa period (1926-1989). Mine takes place in 1890…I know it existed then–they’ve been around since the Edo period. And I also know it probably vaguely resembled the modern yakuza. All I can ever find for my time period is a page or two at most of info…
I’m not giving up though. I just have to find another way to go about it. And I will not sacrifice historical and cultural accuracy–books like that make me extremely annoyed as a reader; I do not want to put my readers in the same boat.
I suppose this is part of the fun of being an aspiring novelist!
Comments on: "The Insurmountable Task of Researching One’s Novel" (3)
Your project sounds fascinating. I enjoy reading books about Chinese and Japanese culture and understand why it must be absolutely accurate. You won’t be taken seriously otherwise.
I read somewhere that one of the big writers – don’t remember who right now – wrote a novel set in the far East without travelling there. He did the research from books and the internet. If he did it, I believe you can too. Guess you just have to keep right on searching until you find the material you need.
Thanks for adding me. Added you to my blog roll as well.
As I recall, the yakuza started out as petty thieves, gamblers, and street gangs and had a long, slow evolution into modern crime syndicates.
Do your street gangs do a lot of singing, dancing, and finger snapping? According to Broadway, that’s what gangs do.
I wrote about the Boer War in one of my short stories. I, too, started from history books and websites. When I had finished writing my story, I was lucky enough to run into a man who had grown up in South Africa and knew the terrain and the history. It helped that he had also served in the military there. He read through my story and gave me wonderful advice on what to tweak for accuracy.
Perhaps you could make a connection with a Japanese person online (a writer, maybe?) who would be willing to assist you. Put out a call on all of your usual online haunts. Ask your friends if they know of anyone through a cultural exchange program. Ask at a nearby university. If you seek, you shall find.