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.