Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Dirty O word...Organizing!

Photograph by Steve Jurvetson
**Repost due to NaNoWriMo insanity**
Organizing is an often maligned idea when it comes the writing process. 

Particularly by "Pantsers" or people who just go with the flow of their story or characters...

I have no idea how this works because I tend to plan EVERYTHING...just check my refrigerator for the monthly menu...yeah, that's me.

Research is one thing you should really try to stay on top of though, whether you're a seat of the pants writer or not.  

There's when to do it, how much, where to keep it and how to access it efficiently, why you shouldn't skip it -- its a serious matter for a writer.  But it's not as intimidating as it seems and the pay off for proper research usually comes in spades.

  • First off, WHEN do you do it? - I asked a few authors this and the overwhelming response was BEFORE you need it.  Don't wait until you're on the plane, your MC struggling to keep the nose up, glancing with wild-eyed panic at the instrument panel....only to stop and have to look up what an altimeter looks like and where it is, not to mention how to read it...You don't want to ruin the flow of writing so do your research AHEAD OF TIME.
  • The second question is HOW MUCH research do you do? - Well, that depends on what you're writing. If its Historical, then probably a lot unless you already hold a degree in  your genre or have another interest that overlaps information.  You'll need to understand the in's and out's of a particular profession if your MC's career is outside your experience. Maybe the setting is a place you haven't visited or lived in, so you'll need to do some research. DETAILS are what make a novel believable, so don't skimp on pictures or GOOGLE EARTH.   On the other hand, you don't have to describe the origin of every bead on the bodice of your heroine, so be careful not to overload the reader.
  • WHERE TO KEEP IT - Close at hand, is my experience. I tend to bookmark sites that are helpful under a file name with my novel's title. I print out pictures and articles that I need and put them in my novel binder (I'll totally get to what that is in a minute.) Often saving PDF and other files directly in a file marked with your novel's name on your desktop works well. The point is to file it...FILE IT...as soon as you get it. Why? Because when you need it, searching through every scrap of paper on your desk, in your desk, or in the trash, is a pain and disrupts the flow of writing.  Trust me on this...FILE IT.
  • WHY YOU SHOULDN'T SKIP IT - Nothing throws a reader out of the fiction dream you've created faster than a blaring mistake. What's worse, nothing screams unprofessional like being caught 'winging it'  in the facts department.  Take the time to know your business...details like interstate numbers, landmarks and local landscape details are important. The most annoying mistakes for me as a reader are TIME WARPS, especially in historical fiction. Don't talk about zippers, if they haven't been invented yet...its just rude.
Finally, I've found that a three-ring binder with dividers, the kind you used to have in high-school, is very helpful for keeping all of your research in one place.

So when you have written your 50,000 Nano behemoths...take a few days to really make sure you've been accurate. Your readers will thank you for it. 


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I do some research before writing (and of course create a detailed outline as well) but some stuff I generalize and then add facts and details later.

Eric W. Trant said...

Now research is something I do. I don't pants on that.

I do more than is necessary, and I do it up-front.

For instance, my first novel involved the occult, so I talked with my cousin (who was/is into that stuff), did some tarot reads, read some books, and even had a paga-normal religious experience!

I was reading in bed about the moon goddess and the sun god. The longhorn symbol represents the sun god. Make the letter C with your other hand, that's the moon goddess.

The book said not to throw those signs unless you mean to, and never throw them simultaneously.

But I was experimenting for my book! I had to throw the signs.


I was totally into the book. I was feeling it, if you get me.

I put up the longhorn. I made a crescent C with my other hand.

My reading lamp blew. Not before or after I did the sign, but at the EXACT INSTANT I put up that crescent C opposite the longhorn.

When was the last time your lamp blew while it was on? I've never seen one go out except when it's turned on. Never seen one POP like that light did.

True that story, to the letter, and let's not discuss what the tarot cards said.

Man, I love research!

- Eric

Raquel Byrnes said...

I can't believe that you even make research adventurous. I am so jealous! =)

Donna Hole said...

I have a tendency to get lost in research. One topic leads to another, then that link goes to something else interesting and . . .

I always have to save the links, and sometimes print out entire documents to browse through.

I'm a learner though. I like info for the sake of it.

And I research mostly before writing. Yeah, gotta have that info already handy for when I need it. Right now I'm writing a sci-fi short and doing the research as I go b/c frankly, I have no clue what I'll need, or when.

I'm just never gonna be a geek, no matter how much I research. Luckily I have some good friends - online and off - that have been a big help when I need it.

My desk is so cluttered with research. I need that "file it" advice. :)

@Eric: Creepy, and fascinating. Don't mess with the mojo :)


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Hart Johnson said...

Oi! It totally depends what it is for me... i agree location and profession need some work up front and TIME absolutely would need a TON, but you know what? You know how easily distracted I am, right? If I have too much information up front I get all excited and follow all these tangents and my book ends up a hot mess. I am much better off making a note of the KIND of fact I want to go somewhere and looking it up after the story is written...

Possibly this pragmatism has followed me from my day job where we write journal articles... when you have a study to publish, you should do a lit review, but that can be extremely intensive! It is easier for me to write broadly what I want to say... lead down the path I want the reader to go on, and then look up the sources that go with only those pieces of the story. Yes, you need to change the story to fit the facts, but at least you aren't including some large section that doesn't actually matter much.

Erin Kane Spock said...

I research like crazy. I research so much that I sometimes forget to write and end up on tangents.
My next subject is country festivals for Beltane/Mayday in Elizabethan England and bee hives.

Anonymous said...

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DEZMOND said...

you have a monthly menu? :) Why aren't you working in a restaurant then? :P