Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What Research Did For My Writing...


This cartoon is politically incorrect
 at a time when the gun control issue
 is a serious controversy.
So apply your sense of humor
...that's right
...I knew you had one
 and move on to the meat
 of this article. Are you smiling, yet?
I am.
The best and worst advice I ever got was ‘write what you know.’ 

The part about writing I like the most is the research. If I already know my subject, where’s the fun? Where’s the challenge? Where’s the learning curve? And, I take it for granted. I use what I know in my character development, in location, and relationships. Plots I get to play with.

The downside to research is that it can inspire the most creative thoughts or stop progress in its tracks. 

Here’s the process: 

An original idea forms. During the initial research the idea develops, takes form and substance from your information gathering. That’s when I can’t wait to further research the details and put them down on paper (or napkins or into my smart phone or the computer). If I have to go back and do more research...yeah! Well, let’s just say I have to stay focused and in control. 

I have to approach the research with specific questions in mind. What am I researching and why? Knowing the answer to those questions is imperative to finding the material and then moving on. Surfing through endless data on the net will only put your ideas into overload mode. Deal with one problem or idea at a time. Set other concepts aside to use later or in other books, but stay true to your original task. Periodically, even during editing,  inspiration hits me. I have to add a new detail then follow up to make sure I’ve covered all the finer points, before and after, to include it. 

Some story lines don’t required much research. The ‘fun’ ones entail a lot of exploration into a subject that fascinates me. What about you? Right? Islands in the Pacific, the weight of a body on Mars, the type of vehicle with the most security, and on and on. The Pacific island research can lead to weather, or the history of the south Pacific or ... You get my point.

Among everything I research, and I mean that literally (everything interests me), I’ve become fascinated with researching ‘the art of writing’, which can be dangerous for the creative process in one way and good in another. Improving the manuscript is always a plus. Studying and improving your craft should be every professional’s goal. But beware!

Overwriting potentially destroys the author’s voice (you know--that special something that has readers looking for all your other books when they finish this one). Do not use this as an excuse to be sloppy or lazy about your writing. I’m not saying to ignore the craft. I’m saying brush up ‘before’ you start to write the book and make a few notes about what points you’d like to concentrate on for this particular project. It would be nice to get it perfect every time, but for now, work on the finer points. 

For instance: Maybe you write great dialogue and often forget to describe the setting or what the characters are doing during their conversations. Focus on adding these elements to your work.

Another example could be to apply previous critique suggestions to your current WIP. Do you have a problem with POV or lack of deep POV? Check your scenes for this or focus on it as you write.

Make a bullet list of issues you recognize about your own writing style from the past and check it often during your process to confirm you’re dealing with your major problems. Before you start to write the scene, visualize it. Your mind is the camera and your words are the film. Plan how you will show the scene to the reader, step by step. What does the POV character see first, feel first, hear or do first? Then, what next?

Balance. My personal favorite. Know your characters. I mean know them down to the mole on their backside and the scar on their knee from when they fell off their bike at five years old. Don’t tell the reader all the details, but know them. Some will be important for the reader to know, some will be important for the author to write the character’s reactions and actions. The past defines who we are and how we react.

Great dialogue without description belongs in a screenplay so the director can develop the story the way he wants. In your novel, you are the author. You are the director. Write the details but don’t overdo it. Be careful. Those details should move the story forward not slow down the pace.

What happens when you have the opening, a great middle and the end, but somewhere between the middle and the end (that special place where you must tie up all the loose ends to get your characters to that ending) you aren’t sure what is going to happen? (I’m here in three books right now.) The ending is loosely written, but you’re at the fork in the road. To write this scene properly,  you have to commit to the ending first. What I’m discovering is if you have to, take both forks. Write the ending both ways and see what suits you best. Doing the extra work will save precious time and mental anguish in the long run, instead of chewing your nails over writer’s block. You’re not blocked. You’re uncommitted. Make a decision and move forward. I’m going to.

These are just a few thoughts I had for today. Do you have anything to add? Any words of encouragement for struggling authors or thoughts about researching and the writing process?
~~ Eliza