Sunday, May 1, 2011

From the Ground Up

I've started the basic research for my latest novel. (I say latest, because I've written 3 others, though none are published. More on that stigmata in a future post.)

Once upon a time, I used to begin a novel by sitting down and typing, Chapter 1, Page 1. And then, with a rough idea of who my characters were and where I wanted them to go, I would churn out a few dozen pages. All in the hope that I could bridge the gap between a few "key" scenes and all that filler crap in between them.

This isn't necessarily a bad way to write, but it isn't really efficient. I end up with more useless pages than useful ones ... which plays havoc on my confidence. Oh, not my confidence in writing, but in the belief that this whole piece of shit is worth completing.

Yet, times have changed. A few years ago, tackling a major novel, I began doing research to help with the background of my characters. Then some more research about other aspects dealing not with my characters, but their families or schools or religion or neighborhoods. Of course, this grew into some major commitment of time and energy building a detailed history of my characters, most of which would never see the page.

I really found it liberating. Yes, I removed much of the spontaneity in my writing. But I was adding a solid foundation that made it so much easier to describe the what and why of everything that happened.

This change was monumental in the way I wrote. A good change.

So, for this new novel, The Empty Everything, I'm spending all my time doing research. I'll probably keep this up for another couple of weeks and then dive into the actually writing part.

Oddly enough, now that I think about it, I did no research for any of my published short stories. None. I think that's because I tend to write flash fiction (1,000 words or less). Also, much of what I write in short form is semi-autobiographical. I don't need to research actual events in my life -- even if I do manipulate them.

Well, more on all that in later posts. I have a lot to say, it seems, and am just getting started.


  1. I seem to get stuck on writing strategies. Sometimes I start with a detailed plan -- and it helps, but there are other times when I feel like the plan suffocates my creativity and flow of ideas. Other times I just start writing -- and usually this works better for me ... up until the point when I realize that to edit and structure all the thoughts/ideas into something coherent is pretty much an impossible task ...

    I think I've come to the conclusion that the best strategy is to be flexible. Deciding ahead of time that I want to stick to a plan or I want to write without a plan seems to have restricted my approach to writing. Now I'm not as uptight. If I come up with a plan, I know I don't need to stick to it ... and if I start writing randomly and feel the need to properly structure a section or two, I don't let it hinder the writing process. I just get on with it.

  2. Flexibility is important, but in fiction writing not having a plan means a lot of wasted time.

    Yes, I know intuitively we think that creativity knows no guidelines, but in truth the more detailed the plan, the more pre-writing research done to flesh out characters, then the more realistic your novel and the easier it is to write.

    The idea is to nail down all the technical facts. The creative stuff then has room to grow because that's your focus.