Ok, first: THANK YOU INTERNET!! (And by "internet", I mean all of you beautiful people who came, read my plea, and left a comment last week with fantastic research tips.) I got a heretofore unimagined wealth of great, helpful information, which I am now using. Like, right now. Right this very second. Oh yeah, I'm a multitasker-extraordinaire.
Ok, fine. Not really. BUT I've been using your ideas already, and I'm spending a day at my local library this week, so that sort of counts.
I want to take a step back, though, and answer a question no one has asked. Why? Because I need a lead-in to the body of this post, obviously. Duh.
Last week, I wrote out a veritable laundry list of research needs for my new book, and explained that I needed these items for, well, really important writing stuff. Which begs the question, Ancient Greece and Tibet and the British Raj and Australian sheep and my good God what the heck is wrong with you?? Are you trying to give yourself a brain aneurysm???
Oh no, wait. That's not the question I was going to answer. Sorry. It was this one: Why exactly do you need this research to create a plot? You say character is plot; why can't you just use the characters instead of doing this utterly psychotic amount of research?
Ahhh, sneaky me, using my own words against myself! Well, smarty-pants, let me give you an example.
So, I had this idea to have one of the lifetimes for my souls take place in a remote village in Tibet, around 500-600 CE. When I came up with the idea, I thought of writing it from the POV of an old man on the day his next door neighbor, an old woman, lies dying. Without giving away too much, this little story revolved around the idea that he was supposed to marry this woman - as in an arranged marriage - but instead, he married someone else.
Cool. Workable idea. Then I did some very preliminary research into Tibetan culture...and found out that Tibet is one of the very few areas in the world where polyandry was widely practiced. For those of you who don't want to click on that Wikipedia link (and really, you should; the article is freaking fascinating), polyandry is "a form of polygamy whereby a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time."
Yes, you read that right. One lady, many husbands.
No, this isn't some form of ancient feminism. I had to read quite a bit more to wrap my head around this concept, but the basic idea is this: in a place like Himalayan Tibet, where there is very little arable land, it becomes critical to keep a family's land intact and not divide it up among all of the children (or, ok, sons) into small, unsustainable plots. To that end, the eldest son is considered the head of the family, and the heir. So this lucky guy finds a gal who is absolutely NOT from his clan, and marries her, and then, by proxy, all of his brothers are automatically married to this lady, too. Whatever children she bears, no matter which brother is the actual father, are considered the children of the eldest brother. And all of these people - wife, multiple brother/husbands, children, and any remaining members of the previous generation - live together, usually in one large house. (And thus you can see why people aren't allowed to marry within their clans; they really are all related to each other.)
It's a creative solution to some difficult problems, when you think about it. In addition to dealing with issues of inheritance, polyandry was also thought to help control population - again, important in a place with limited resources - as well as increase the likelihood of children surviving to adulthood. Really cool, from an anthropological standpoint, but a major problem for me and my cute little idea.
As you can guess, this information threw my seed of an idea on its tiny, undeveloped head. Maybe I do have an old guy with a wife, but are there other husbands, too? Or did he go off on his own and break all acceptable tradition, and marry one lady for himself, thereby losing all right to his family's land?
And anyway, what is the concept of a village in ancient Tibet? Is there even such a thing as a next-door neighbor, or are there just these clans living together in isolated pockets? If so, can our old man even have a neighbor who is dying? And are these marriages arranged, or not?
So, you see, in this case, the research informs everything. This is often the case with a society and culture that I'm unfamiliar with. I can come up with some nice ideas, but until I learn something about the time period and place, those ideas are fairly useless.
Which means... that I really do have to do all of that research. I know, I'm crazy. But if I can pull it off, it might just make a really effing cool book.