Writing Cues

I skipped last week’s entry because I was sick. It was also my birthday last week, which means that my deadline for completion has come and gone.

This is not the first time I’ve seen a self-imposed deadline come and go. I spent the last couple of weeks wasting time at the computer. Sometimes, I would just add a comma and remove a word because I didn’t know how to proceed. That kind of writing is really unfruitful.  The thing was that I was stuck, but I didn’t realize why right away. It took a while for me to realize that I’d reached a part of the story that required me to address something I’d been avoiding until then. (The entire premise of the current story rests on this bit of scientific knowledge I knew very little about.) I could continue to write around it or deal with it.

I am not a scientist who writes fiction. I am a fiction writer who likes reading science articles and finds science fiction interesting. Because of my lack of expertise, I’d reached a point where I was left wondering if I could complete what I’d set out to do. I realized that I wasn’t going to get any further without getting into some heavy research. So I wrote down key questions that I needed answered. How does it work? What are the benefits? What are the side effects? What does this look like? Since I couldn’t bring myself to write, I read articles and papers on the subject.

Two things happened during this process. 1) I realized that part of the doubt I had about completing the novel came from the fact that I wasn’t sure if this premise would hold up to scrutiny. 2) Once I realized it could, I started writing again.

When I was in graduate school and had to read a difficult text I’d summarize main concepts on a notebook as I read. I think it is an accurate assessment of whether you learned something or not. So I started summarizing findings and practiced trying to explain what I learned to my husband, who actually is a scientist, to see if I made any sense.  And story evolved from this summation practice.

The details give authority to the characters who needed it and authenticity to the experience. I do have to warn beginning writers that not all research should go into the story.  I spent a lot of time and learned a lot of things that won’t make it in. After all, story is about the people in the end. Like every aspect of writing, I have to pick out the parts that are most relevant, add richness and authority to the story. I have to choose the information that will give the best illusion of a complete picture.

I’ve learned and am learning through this process that when I hit a wall, it is usually because I haven’t developed an aspect of the story very well, be it a character or whatever. It’s a signal to stop and think a while on what to do. Maybe it’s still a stupid idea. I don’t know yet, but I can go forward knowing it is possible to finish and confident in the direction I’m taking.

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