dream research you don’t want to do

I’m currently working on a two-hander, THE RING, about a woman obsessed with Wagner‘s RING CYCLE (particularly the story of Sieglinde and Siegmund) and her mother, seemingly British, who turns out to have been a Holocaust survivor.

Imagine my research.

I have been hip-deep in the Holocaust of late, including Auschwitz, Dr. Mengele, Adolph Eichmann, and remembrance websites, some built by survivors.

Here’s what’s really scary.

When I grab hold of a thread that might be useful, either in my story or backstories, I’m suddenly fascinated, following tangents that have nothing to do with my work, tangents that lead me to a female doctor who did Mengele-like experiments, to the story after the liberation of Auschwitz of how the women – sick, emaciated women – were repeatedly raped by their Red Army “saviors.”

And I read these things.

When I was a kid and Leon Uris‘ MILA 18 came out, I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting, and had nightmares for years.

My dreams, so far, are the normal eclectic fare, some mundane, some transformative, some the kind of wishful thinking that makes “dream” a positive term.  Please may that continue.

Tell me, when you’re researching for a work, do you get obsessed? go down bizarre paths? hit a tolerance level of what you can stand?

And tell me too, how do you walk away, shake it off, get on with the rest of life and your other work?

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7 thoughts on “dream research you don’t want to do

  1. I have been in your shoes exactly. In college, I started writing a novel on the Irish potato famine,in the track of covering that as means of genocide, and not only did I become obsessed with everything Irish and everything about the famine, I got so depressed that I left the project entirely until I am able to return to it. My tolerance level was hit when I found myself reading documents written by British landlords and Parliament reports, added to very racist anti-Irish columns written at the time of major Irish immigration to the United States. It was just too much. I walked away to get fresh air and build strength to tackle what needs to be tackled.

  2. After reading a good deal of Joyce in school, I became singularly obsessed with the rituals of the Catholic Mass. Having not been raised in the faith, I found is simultaneously beautiful and profane. Still do. I ended up going to masses all over the place, Chicago, NYC, Germany, just to get a sense of the different flavors. Pound for pound, nothing beats a good Catholic burial mass at St. Patrick’s in NY.

  3. Nothing wrong with becoming obsessed for a while, just keep in mind that at some point you have to stop because it may be a way of avoiding the actual writing. And even though you may use only 3% of the material you research, it all goes to informing the context in which your characters exist and how they would react in a situation. So it’s all subconscious work.

  4. Roxanne wrote: “I can’t get it to let me post in the blog, but: Yes. Yes, I do. All of the above. I generally allow myself a sort of a deadline to obsess about the tangents. If I’m already on a deadline and I find the tangents calling, I make a list of the links I was interested in, with a quick note about them. When I’m on less of a deadline, I allow myself to go back and look at the tangents. I either go down the rabbit hole or decide they’re no longer as interesting. (Often they’re less interesting when I have time to read them. Funny, that.)”

  5. Jackie wrote: “I do. I am in deep with Bosnia again. I have been researching my butt off, and then I take a break and get back to it after a rest. The subject is intense and requires rests in between. Of course, then I think of the women I am writing about and how they weren’t allowed respite and it pushes me to keep up the hard work.”

  6. Lea, you’re right, it all accrues.
    Roxanne, great advice, I do keep pages and files of tangents, but sometimes they take me over even when I’m under deadline.
    Jackie, I just took a walk with a friend, helped me get away from the research and a structural problem either solved itself or at least put me on the right path.
    Anyone else have advice or a war story to tell?

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