Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Friday, May 18, 2012

Researching your novel: chaos eating the sun

Lately I'm interested in how people research for their novels.

Rick Riordan: organized
Rick Riordan's style, for example, seems all efficiency and organization. Before he sits down to write, say, a book based on Egyptian mythology, Rick claims to 1) toss off his research in about two weeks; then, when he knows everything he needs to know about his subject, he 2) jots down an outline, and 3) churns out a story.

Which then, of course, is brilliant, funny, and makes your kid (who never wanted to read before) love both reading and Egyptian mythology.

I'm in the middle of writing a fantasy novel, so you might think research would be kind of minimal. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ha!

This is my style:

1) Write the first page with a setting loosely based on reality. Realize you have no plot because your setting sucks because you don't know enough, and also you don't really want to know about that place. Love the first page, though!

2) Pick a new setting on which to loosely base your story.

3) Scour the internet. Get distracted because there's so much interesting stuff! Even though it's only sort-of-but-not-quite on-topic! Print out a binder-full of pages. Go to the library. Realize you won't be returning your books by three-week deadline. Buy a bunch of books. Read like a fiend.

4) Go on a run. Epiphany! Writing explosion. Realize you need to research applicable names. Go online and print out fifty-pages-worth so you can pick as you go.

Leo, the snake,
representing Chaos,
representing Elena's style
of novel research
5) Write some more. Realize you're writing a steam-punk-style alternate-history without the steam or the machines or actually any technology to speak of, and with a lot of fantastical and magical elements and you need to know much, much more.

6) Go back online. Print out more pages. Buy more books. Some not exactly on topic. Read like a fiend. Realize the off-topic books are more on-topic than the on-topic ones. Realize you have to totally change up everything you've written.

7) Go on a bike ride. Have a plot epiphany and another writing explosion, petering out as you realize you need to read some more, scour the internet and then get back to writing.

8) Write, write write. Realize with a sigh that you really need to see your setting, even though the time period is several hundred years out, because you need to smell the air and feel the texture of it and see the birds and experience the bugs and the spread of the land and the look of the trees, and just stand on top of that historical site and meditate.

9) Plan a trip. Try to figure out how to fund it.

10) Write some more.

I call it the 10-Step-Plus plan for researching your novel, because step 10 is only the beginning.

Or we could call it the chaos-and-multiple-Big-Bangs-style research pattern. The why-again-do-you-think-I-have-ADHD? pattern. The pretty-much-opposite-Rick-Riordan-in-every-way pattern.

Maybe it's a sign that Rick is right, and Apophis, otherwise known as Chaos, is about to eat the Sun-God, Ra, and the world is about to end.

Serpent eating Sun
(Drawing of Serpent Mound in Ohio, actually, not Egypt)

How about you? What's your research style? Do you favor chaos, like me, or order, like Rick?

Who would you rather be?

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