Research and Restructuring

Working out the details for a new story can be a time-consuming pain in the butt. That’s what makes the Internet so great: there’s a wealth of information out there to help you decide where your story should take place, what kind of weapon your antagonist should carry, or what is the perfect name for your main character’s best friend. During National Novel Writing Month time that information is compressed into a neat little bundle in the form of the “Reference Desk” forum on the NaNoWriMo website. On the Reference Desk, NaNo participants from all over the world help each other answer the tough questions, and give assistance and opinions based on their own personal experiences.

I haven’t made great use of the Reference Desk in the past because most of my NaNo novels took place in made-up worlds where I could write whatever I damn-well pleased to make my story make sense. This year, however, my novel idea takes place in the real world, and requires my main character to travel the world a bit. So off to the Reference Desk I went, to ask for help. What I was looking for was assistance in choosing a main location for my story. I wanted a place that was a little off the map, somewhere were things like cell phones and massive amounts of entertainment are more scarce, but also somewhere where the residents celebrate Halloween, or a similar creepy-stuff-abounds kind of holiday.

What I quickly determined from the replies I received was that there aren’t many places these days where my requirements make a lot of sense. A few people pointed out, for example, that even in less civilized areas, cell phones are abound, and that some of the least likely places actually have higher cellphone-per-capita numbers because they never caught up on land-line installations and instead skipped right to cell. As I continued to read through the replies from people more knowledgeable than me, scene ideas and plot holes ran through my mind, and I began to realize that there probably is no good location that will suit all my needs for this particular story. I had a moment of frustrated indignation just thinking about it.

And then I realized something. I realized that I’m a writer, dammit, and writers improvise. The world might not always conform to meet our needs, but we have the power to change the world.

All of a sudden I had a plethora of additional ideas fluttering through my mind. My story wouldn’t take place in the present, no…but in the near future, yes. And there would be a disaster of some kind – nothing that would completely destroy the planet, but would lessen the planet’s population and destroy many forms of present-time technology. It all began to come together. I could see how this would work, how it would enhance the story, and even how it would flesh out the background of the main character. The fellow writers who responded to my post couldn’t give me exactly what I’d been looking for, but they helped me realize that I can give myself exactly what I’m looking for, if I’m just willing to be a little more creative.

The take-away from this post is two-fold:

1. The writer community is huge and helpful. The Reference Desk at the NaNoWriMo website is not always active in the non-NaNo season, but you can always find fellow writers in places like the #MyWANA Twitter feed, critique sites like Critique Circle, and the multitude of writer blogs (like this one!). Point being, there is always assistance out there if you need it.

2. Writers are adaptable, and improvisation is often the mother of some of the best ideas. If the details of your story aren’t working out, reconsider them. What would need to happen in order to make the details work out? What do you have to do in order to make that thing happen? Now do it!

Writing has a lot of facets other than the literal sitting down and writing. Tons of research is (unfortunately) one of them, and adapting your story ideas as a result of that research is (unfortunately) another one. But neither has to be as horrible as they sound. Join the writer communities popping up everywhere, and the whole system will feel that much simpler.

Not to mention, significantly less lonely.

Are you a part of any writer communities? Why or why not? Have you ever recruited the help of others in working some of the details of your story? Did it help? Have you ever completely changed a story based on researched information? Please share!

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