I pretty sure the internet thinks I’m a serial killer right now. I’ve been researching crime and laws for my dissertation story and my web history is beginning to look somewhat alarming. I can just imagine someone looking at it and saying something like ‘Oh, researching psychopaths and killers, there. And gun laws… and carry permits… police response times? Ok, I’m just going to back away now. I didn’t see a thing.’
As we’ve already said here at Inkprint, research is damn important. But, while making the gods of Google reach for their phones to send the police my way, I realised what I was doing. And not doing. I wasn’t writing. Research may be necessary, but it cannot be allowed to become a distraction from the actual writing. What I was meant to be writing actually had nothing to do with crime and accident rates, or even the police. That stuff would come much later. But, there I was, drifting through the vastness of the internet, not one word added to the open document next to it.
Bad me. Time to go back to writing. This may be another distraction….
So, First things first. Reading. Anyone who likes writing likes reading. And, if you don’t, you’re seriously doing something wrong. But, if there’s one thing that readers/writers learn very quickly, it’s that some of the ‘best’ books, new or old, can be damn hard to read. Especially some of the reading list books we get, along with the classic ‘proper’ books. So here’s a quick tip that gets me through some of the harder pieces of apparently brilliant fiction out there: Read what you like, too. A friend of mine got a new book recently. Part of a series. One she’d been waiting for. But she had another book she really needed to read for class. So, use the books you like as a reward system. You’ve just read a chapter of the dullest and most difficult book in the word? Congratulations! You may now read a chapter of that epic you just can’t wait for. As long as you stick to this, you’ll make it.
And now, part two. Random thoughts.
As a writer, you should keep a notebook, or at least a pen, with you at all times. You can’t let that perfect idea that hit you in the supermarket get away, can you? But, sometimes, it’s just the little things that can make a story. The random thoughts that bubble into or heads throughout the day that make us real. Take a moment to write them down and give them to your characters.
For example (and collected from a few people for the purposes of this blog and trying not to let just me look completely insane); ‘I really have to stop getting mad a yoghurt.’ Which sounds mad out of context, but is really just a friend’s annoyance at not being able to get yoghurt without bits, or without strawberry flavour, which she hates.
‘He’s going to arrest me for reckless walking.’ Another friend who’d just walked right into a policeman and really did think he would arrest her.
And, who doesn’t think this one? ‘What if I walk through the security sensors and the alarm goes off?’ That one was me being paranoid walking out of a shop even though I hadn’t stolen anything.
So, reading and writing down the random. Get to it.
So, had dissertation today, and my work was looked at. I’m not entirely sure how much I’ve improved as a writer over the past three years, but I have learnt to take a critical eye to my work. I can easily remember my first year and how much I would panic before letting someone else see my work. And how much I was terrified that they’d call it a train wreck. Teacher or fellow student, it didn’t matter. I was sure that they’d hate it and sure that I wouldn’t be able to deal with it when they said so. Today, as I said, the tutor and a friend of mine looked at my work and told me what they thought. Some good. Some bad. Lots of rewriting to do. Lots of lines that needed cut because they were over written, badly written, or simply not needed. And, you know what I realised? It wasn’t a bad thing. That’s perhaps the main thing I’ve come to see over my time at university. Someone telling me what’s wrong with my work isn’t a bad thing. It’s helpful. It’s damn hard to see our own work critically. It’s either complete rubbish or totally brilliant. And, it’s never really either of those.
So, don’t be afraid to let someone read what you’ve got. Especially if they’re someone who knows what they’re doing. And, you don’t always have to listen to everything.
When I first started writing one of my stories, I was convinced it should be in first person. I was so sure that this was the right choice that I wrote nearly the whole thing before I finally admitted that it wasn’t working with that voice. Because, up until that point, I had pretty much only ever written first person narratives. But, when I did have that moment of revelation during that particular story, it let me see that, even if I thought I preferred a first person voice, sometimes third is the only way the story will work.
I guess what I’m trying to say, in my own way, which is particularly overtired right now, is that voice is one of the most important parts of any story, and you have to live with it for a long time. Don’t use the wrong one just because it’s not your preferred one. Every story is different. Every one needs its own voice.
Writing is a full time job. Not only do writers live their own lives, but the lives of countless others, too. For every character we write, we have to know what makes the tick. And, to do that, we must know their experiences and pasts so we can create their reactions in their stories. Even if you may never have the opportunity to use it, it can be good practice to write out, in whatever style you’re working with, major events from your character’s lives. This way, you know exactly how they reacted to them, what impressions they got from the events and the exact ways it changed them.
The story the reader will eventually get is only the surface of what the writer must know.
Doing research for your novel can either go one of many ways; it can either be incredibly fun, or depressingly boring, and somewhere in between is the ever-present fear that one day the police are going to show up because you were Google-ing which poisons are untraceable in the human body.
But research is necessary when it comes to writing. It’s about as important as the actual writing you’re going to be doing. Want to write a novel that involves a character undergoing heart surgery? You’ll need to research that. And not just the symptoms of whichever heart alignment your character has, but also about hospitals in general (especially if there’s a scene set inside a hospital), what a heart surgery entails, and even the aftermath of surgery and the possible complications. Research everything.
And don’t just Google it. Google is helpful, yes, but only for the first few drafts while you’re still getting your story together. But if you’re going to be writing about your character undergoing heart surgery, you’ll need to go further. Go to the library, read up on it. Study it as if you’re studying it for your degree. Ask someone who has a degree or PhD in health and medicine. You could ask an actual doctor/surgeon, but don’t just go up to them while their working and ask them if they’ll answer a few questions. Maybe make an off-work appointment for an interview or even send them an email.
I’m not saying you should do this for all of your research, and their are somethings you can’t research all that thoroughly anyway. I’m currently working on my novel and in the very first chapter there is a funeral. But I’ve never been to a funeral before, I know very little about what happens, but I’m not going to go attending funerals uninvited just so I can see what happens (That would just be an awful and offensive thing to do). But I’m not going to let that stop me, especially as I have so many resources for me to use.
So remember, research is key. If you don’t have the drive to bother researching, then you shouldn’t be writing. You would be surprised in the difference a little bit of research can do for your writing.