Thursday, January 14, 2010

Research, Research

This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. Tidbits that I've picked up on other blogs have helped in this regard. So today I will wade through my thought process. But first I want to state a few things: as in all writing projects research is engaged differently for different people. As Melissa and Erica have addressed at different times in the last week or so, one way to is akin to stewing over your own experiences. Eventually, the flavors will bleed together in a complimentary form and something will emerge. For me, this synthesis is most common in rough drafts.

And yet... as I have discovered again and again that research does not end with the first draft. My latest drafts of Novel One are alternating between manic and silent. On a recent post in the blog Agent Savant, featuring Teresa Medieros' writing tips, is a quote directly applicable to this cycle: "A creative silence may be your subconscious saying, 'Hush, child. I'm working on a better plan.' " I find myself whittling at details, gathering them and finding edges to smooth while the larger bits are secreted away in the corner of my brain. Reexamining the world-building aspects is definitely part of my research. Sometimes i have to pour through non-fiction texts to fiddle with the logic of my world, making certain all my t's are crossed, my i's dotted. This is where i am right now.

While this is partially due to questions that arise at critique sessions, I also know that I have to be careful in this phase. Sometimes that intersection of "new approach" and "self doubt" can lead down the wrong path. This can be a matter of voice, which C.E. Murphy addressed today on Magic Words. Her caution, I think, is well warranted when she says that "[She knows] a lot of writers who have been screwed up by listening hard to people telling them how they “should” write, and trying to do that for years and years, rather than trusting themselves and their own style."

However there have been times when I've felt my voice has changed. With changing preferences in reading material, my written voice changes and it takes effort to smooth the word choice into something applicable to the story. On the other hand, I know myself partial to poetic writing. Many have picked a bone with this part of my style and for a time I did not write this way. But I think that, in the end, I have to trust what I want. There are quite lyrical fantasy epics on the shelves, not that they are everyone's cup of tea. Or that my style is intensely lyrical. I just like descriptions that way ...

So another portion of research enters at this phase: reading fiction.

Who's done it? Who's done it well? How? Why?

I think a key part in defining one's style is knowing what one likes to read. That isn't to say that every writer mimics spot-on their favorite authors. But this, like the first step of piecing a story together is synthesized from experience. Our minds sort out preferences and channel them into our own "voice." Sometimes this is dependent on how we talk, which is defined by our relationships with others and so forth, but it is also reliant on how familiar we are with literature.

I read a lot in the SF/F genre, non-fiction, and mythology. I read a lot about culture, though this tends to be modern works rather than historical. My favorite authors and societies are my key inspirations, and mythology and fantasy inform my style. Understanding what informs us is a good way to untangle an understanding of one's own voice in order to be true to it.

All research that develops character, plot, world, etc., needs to support this voice. The voice sustains the story after everything comes together in those manic moments when research and creativity meet and the next draft hammers across the keys and is fixed onto the screen.


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