Monday, February 22, 2010

Mailbag Monday: February 2010

Though we have a lot in common, each member of the Tri Mu has a slightly different take on writing, publishing, books, and life in general. On the fourth Monday of the month, we'll take a question submitted by one of you and each give our opinions on the issue.

This month's question: Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the details of a story that need research? How do you handle that?
Submitted by Susan

Kalayna Price's Response: A lot of my research is done before I start writing as I world build and create characters. My early brainstorming process is very organic as tweaking the world changes what the characters can do/how they think/ what they want and changes to those same things in the character may necessitate changes to the world. This is all pre-writting and nothing is set in stone, so I don't usually get overwhelmed--I just sometimes get over excited as I research 'cool' stuff and try to figure out how to make everything fit. A date in which I have to start writing puts a cap on how much of this pre-writing/brainstorming I can do. Once I start writing, I do run into more points that need to be researched. If these points are huge 'omg, this could change how the story plays out' (rare) than I stop and do the research, but only for that one point--no side tangents. If the research is needed just for details, I leave myself a note to come back to it in the second draft. It is far too easy to get sucked into researching every little thing and losing your writing time. Doing a lot of the big research before I ever start the novel, and once I start, not stopping at the tiny things, is how I avoid getting overwhelmed.

Tori Pryer's Response: Research what research....Unfortunately, I tend to start writing and realize that I don't know enough about the backstory or the setting or the history. This is a bit of a problem when you write historicals or books with what I like to call historical elements. You can't fake the past. It happened. You can't fake a location (though plenty of people have tried). When I'm writing, I will put a note to myself saying things like "How many men were needed to crew a B-24?" A little note to remind myself to fact check. Yesterday, I reached a point in my current WIP where I could go no further. So I will likely spend an hour or so tonight figuring out enough of the details that I can move on. You can't get bogged down in the details though. If you do, you stop writing. I promise you that this has happened to me more than once. Also, if you have to stop writing to research, set a timer. You can lose hours to research.

Sarah Templeton's Response: Absolutely. And the overwhelming mountain of research doesn't get any lighter when you're making up your own worlds either, if you're not setting them in a contemporary location. For my science fiction novel, I have a handful of 3-subject notebooks chock full of world-building information, technological gizmos, and myths that no one will ever see. Once I discovered OneNote, keeping track of research was easier -- you can divide your notes into endless categories and search on a dime, which is a relief when you can't remember what you're supposed to be remembering while revising. Two points of advice: 1) Organize your notes. Don't just fling it all on stickies--transcribe it in an orderly fashion when you can. And 2) Beware the tangent. I set a timer to keep myself on one topic and if I finish early I can flit around in the research books like the info junkie I am.

Haricot Vert's Response: I'm in the middle of Overwhelmed right now. At first it seemed harmless enough; I was in revisions and figured a little world building would help me fill those pesky plot holes. But then it snowballed, as I realized that I was having trouble with cussing (for example) because so much of cussing is either based on religious ideals or moral deconstructions. Which lead to exploring the mythos and the theology of the world I was working with. Which lead to realizing that I needed to do something similar for the other five or so worlds that had direct links to the first world. /eye twitch Which puts me here and now.

My solution? I'm going bit by bit, taking notes and trying not to world jump. The other spheres will be there when I arrive, so there is no need to panic. This is what I'm telling myself anyway. :) Again and again and again.

How do you feel about this? Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.

Have another question you'd like the Modern Myth Makers to answer? Just ask us in the comments and we'll try to respond in a future month.


haricot vert said...

Question to Tori: Speaking of getting bogged down in your research, how do you know when to stop?

To all of the Tri Mus: How much research is enough?

purpleprose 78 said...

For me, it was obvious. I had to know where they were located so that I could know what the characters would do next. Do they go south to the mountains or west to the ocean or do they do something different? I have to know where they are to know what they will do. So for me, I stop when I can no longer move forward at all. Tonight, I'm spending time with my World War II Atlas.