Tuesday, 8 October 2013

THE ROLE OF RESEARCH




 Without doubt, imagination plays the most important role in creating the world where your story takes place. But unless it takes place in your house and in your locale, you’ll find yourself needing to do some research - even if it’s from your living room via Google. Research doesn’t mean you stop using your imagination. Irrespective of whether you write thrillers, detective novels or chick lit you need facts, as detail is what adds authenticity, making a fictional world filled with fictional characters believable. 

Science-fiction and fantasy, where you would think imagination has the greater input, are not exempt. If you want a world with two moons or a denser gravity, without research someone will pick up the fact that the orbit you’ve given your moons would create such gravitational stress that the planet would be torn apart in no time. (Mmm, there’s a dramatic scenario...evacuating a world with the clock counting down; and how many films have been made where our planet is about to be hit by an apocalyptic meteor - which is always destroyed with seconds left?). Many fantasy novelists use a medieval type setting. Again, historical research plus imagination.  

Writers vary in their choice of gender for protagonists. Some writers feel they can only write honestly about their own gender; others have no difficulty in exploring both men and women as they find both equally fascinating, and feel neither exists in a vacuum. In theory, women writers inhabiting male characters, and vice versa, should present no problem to the imagination, but here is where research has a role as it’s the accurate detail you provide which creates a genuine reality.  

People you know can be a great resource. If they’ve lived through a period in modern history before you were born, or if they’ve taken holidays at a location where you’ve set your story that you’ve never visited, they can give you personal insights. Biographies are another resource for an era or place you need to research. And don’t forget libraries - I found a wonderful librarian at my local library who photocopied nineteenth century maps for me.
  
The internet gives you access via Google, Wikipedia, etc., to any other number of online resources. I heard an interview where a writer said he’d done all his research for a novel set in south-east Asia without leaving his house. Now some may say that for the writer’s experience to be real you need to physically go there, but I would disagree. Memory,  or research, when combined with imagination create fictional reality...and when you have all three (not forgetting memorable characters and a killer storyline) you stand a fair chance of writing a decent book! 

Every detail of our experiences in life acts to create who we are – and we bring all of this to our writing. We inevitably mine our memories when we write. Our starting point is what we know, in the same way that the basis of every character comes from somewhere within ourselves.  I once read that although our stories may not be autobiographies in the literal sense, they do tell the story of our inner journey. An interesting thought! 

Writing Update 
The Pro Writing editing experience has been intense. I’m currently working on chapter twenty, and I’ve twenty-one chapters. At first, I think I was so overwhelmed by the endless lists, my brain didn’t properly register what the task would entail. It didn't help that I felt a compulsion to check everything on the list - which must be left over from my early school days when the teacher said it had to be done, and there was no question of not doing it. I soon realized I needed to work faster. 

So I put my head down and got on with it.

This impulse lasted, with a dip in mood at the beginning of each new chapter and a high at the end, until around chapter ten. From here on the task seemed to be more daunting, but I kept going. Again, for some unexplained reason at the end of chapter seventeen, even though I wasn’t finished, I was euphoric. 
At the end of chapter twenty one, I’ll have to go back and check over my repeated sentence starts because for some reason, I didn’t think I needed to do this (duh?), until one day the cursor hovered over those three words and informed me that repeated sentence starts can bore the reader. Boring? That caught my attention. Although I don’t envision the task as a long one, it will have to be done. 

The journey is not what I expected when I began writing this novel. Blogging, tweeting, social media were activities I read about, not ones I did. Almost three months of intense editing, after I don’t know how many drafts, was something else I hadn't envisioned. The interesting thing is though, I wouldn’t change any of it. I’ve learnt so much – about writing, about myself, about what I want to do in life – that I’m simply grateful to be a position to do what I’m doing. 

Today’s Haiku 
blonde brown stubbly stalks 
summer’s bounty harvested –
crows gather and feast   

Useful Links:
I will add these bloggers to the ‘I follow’ button on my website when I can pause long enough to take a breath: they’re all great people who provide great reads – each one for different reasons.
(Apologies to anyone I’ve left out...you’ll be on that follow list one of these days...)
http://kcrosswriting.com  

Reading Recommendations:

http://amzn.to/18SbSaG  Gold Dragon Haiku  - my first attempt at publishing poetry! 

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku 

To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

IS EDITING ENDLESS?



At the moment I’m so deeply involved in the editing process that I wanted to share some thoughts - despite already having written two posts this year on the same topic. 

An interviewer once asked Hemingway about how much rewriting he did. Hemingway told him it depended as he had rewritten the last page of Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before he was satisfied. When asked what was the problem, Hemingway replied ‘Getting the words right.’ 

T. S. Elliot thought the ‘larger part of the labour of an author in composing his work is critical labour, the labour of sifting, combining, constructing, expunging, correcting, testing...’ 

Writers need to have two personalities. On the one side, there is the creator whose brain is crammed full of ideas just waiting to be brought to life, and first drafts are often written in a spontaneous creative rush. But after you’ve poured your heart out, taken time for that liberating experience to settle, writers need to call on another aspect of themselves – one that is critical, demanding and who will view the writing with a dispassionate logic. 

So once a piece has rested – and how long is entirely up to each writer as no two writers follow an identical process, and ways of working vary from one individual to the next – it’s time to call on your analytical self and become reacquainted with your work. 

Most writers start editing by dealing with the larger issues first – plot structure, character and setting, before moving on to word choice, repetition, grammar, punctuation and spelling issues. Knowing your own weaknesses, whether it’s stereotypical characters or purple prose helps in sharpening the focus of your work. Another area to consider is pace – giving the reader time to breathe in between sections where you increase the drama. Reading aloud is an effective way to pick up awkward phrases and rhythms – especially if you want to sharpen and enliven your dialogue. 

Ursula Le Guin, in her book, Steering the Craft advises keeping all your drafts and taking the attitude that you’re exploring what other drafts look like – and you can reverse your changes any time you want. She also welcomes the self-discipline involved in editing for this is where you learn what works in your writing, as well as what doesn’t.  

If you think of your writing as a diamond in the rough, all you are doing is shaping, polishing and refining it so that when you present it to the world, it shines. I think editing has a central role in the completion of a piece of writing, and it’s important to remember the goal is to give your reader greater pleasure. 

Writing Update
These days, when people want to know how my novel is progressing, I’m aware the question is asked with all the interest of wanting to know how the grass in my garden is growing. In response, I generally roll my eyes and slump as if I’ve the weight of the world on my shoulders, and tell them I’m editing. 

When I think about my editing, it’s true - I am carrying the weight of the world - the world I’ve created. And getting this right is a responsibility to myself to justify the time I’m giving to this story. I also feel an equal responsibility to any prospective readers because I want them to enjoy, and become absorbed, in the lives of the characters I’ve created. I don’t want their suspension of belief destroyed by errors.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Although I’m working hard at this editing stuff, I’m never going be shouting, ‘I dare you to find a single modifier (dangling or otherwise), adverb or even adjective in this book!’ But when it’s ready, I want it to be the best it can be and if someone doesn’t like it, it should be because it isn’t the type of story they enjoy, not because I’ve missed a mistake in the first paragraph. 

So, to answer my own question in the title of this post,  no, I don’t believe editing is endless and word by corrected word, I am moving closer to the Holy Grail of a finished novel. 

When I can fit it in, I keep working on a chapter outline for this year’s nanowrimo. I’ll admit I am haunted by the editing marathon which awaits me with regard to last year’s efforts. That’s on the back burner for now, but I’m surprised at how often I churn over ideas for finishing this story. However, I'm genuinely excited at the thought of actually writing something new again!


Today’s Haiku
AUTUMN
trees mutate, undress -
frost laces the red brown shawl
layering the earth
(from Gold Dragon Haiku) 

Useful Links:
Although this article is primarily aimed at screenwriters, its advice applies equally to fiction.
This is a transcript of a lecture – but it makes some interesting points – especially about writers!

http://amzn.to/18SbSaG  Gold Dragon Haiku  - my first attempt at publishing poetry! 

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku 

To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.



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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

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