Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Research: If, When, How? July 18, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:07 AM
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Yesterday I was watching the news when a brief clip about urban vehicle auctions came up. It turns out that the government doesn’t really want unclaimed, stolen, abandoned, or seized cars. Instead, they auction them off, sometimes at extremely low prices. Many independent buyers and dealership owners frequent these auctions looking for a good deal. The car you get could come from anywhere, be owned by anyone.

It’s probably a testament to my writer’s (and slightly crazy) mind that my thought process immediately flowed this way:

Someone could get a car that was used in something illegal. Or owned by someone illegal. What if they were some spy hunted by a gang? Or someone on a mobster’s hit list? What if the people going after them recognized the car and came after the new owner?

Whoops. Plot idea.

Most stories – whether fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, romance, or whatever – need some element of research. It might be simply understanding how urban vehicle auctions work. Or it might be working out the subtleties of an entire counterpart culture. No matter what, I usually need to pull up Wikipedia (don’t tell my teachers) at least once while writing a rough draft. That brings me to the point of this post. When is the best time to do research?

Chris Baty’s guide to NaNo – No Plot? No Problem! – suggests leaving a space to come back and fill in later. That’s all very well if you’re rushing to the end of the month and 50,000 words. Otherwise, you’ll probably not want to leave important facts hanging. The answers to simple questions like “What do Frenchmen eat for breakfast?” might become vital plot points.

When not NaNoing, there are three major schools of thought on research. The first write until they reach a point where they need to know something. Then they stop and look it up before continuing on their merry way.

The second group researches intensely beforehand, finding out everything they can. Then they plug the information in as they need it.

The third group mixes these two ideas together. They research broad ideas and important facts beforehand, but discover new areas that need study later. I tend to operate this way. If I’m working on a counterpart culture for a fantasy novel – building the customs and geography of an entire country – I’ll do heavy research beforehand. I spend most of my research time working on world-building. Other minor details – how many stories in the average skyscraper, how vaccines are made, etc – come up and are resolved while I’m writing.

How many stories? Let’s get counting.

What about you? Which type of research works the best? Are there ways you think are more or less efficient?


Worldbuilding and Fantasy Counterpart Cultures March 16, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 7:32 PM
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As I mentioned last post, my newest project is a fantasy book. A lot of fantasy books just recycle the same tired tropes. The Chosen One receives a call for help and travels on an epic quest with their doomed mentor (a prophecy may or may not be involved) to save the kingdom from an evil overlord. Sound familiar? That plotline can apply to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Eragon, and that’s only scratching the surface. They can be done well, but I’m sick of them, so in this project I seek to overturn – subvert, to use TVtropes terminology – a bunch of them.

) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”]A very common stereotype in fantasy books is the setting. I swear, whether you’re in a parallel dimension Earth, a completely made up story, or in the distant future, everyone seems to be stuck on medieval Europe. Sword fights abound, knights in shining armor rescue damsels in distress, and the culture, food, and typical clothing reflect medieval European norms (or what we think they were.) The rest of the world might as well not exist.

To counter this, I made sure that the two cultures explored in my book aren’t English at all. One is almost perfectly like rural Afghanistan – surprisingly so. I had a rough idea of what I wanted, started researching the country, and they matched. The other is  a bit like pre-industrial Russia.

When you’re building an entire world, you have to consider a LOT. That’s why so many people make it a carbon copy of the cultures they already know. If you’re trying to adapt a culture you’re less familiar with – or invent an entirely new one – it takes a lot of work.

How much work? If you’re curious, or interested in building your own new universe, check out Yuffie’s extremely helpful guide on Wattpad:

Taking an anthropology course, visiting other countries, or just reading a lot will also help. So what are you waiting for? Happy world building.


Freedom is Slavery, Slow is Fast – Paradox Fun! June 22, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 10:20 AM
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If you understood the book reference in this post title, I’m very, very sorry for you. I feel your pain. I really do.

At first glance, writing a novel by hand is a really stupid idea. It looks like a really stupid idea at second glance too. Maybe even third, depending on your eyesight. However, it’s actually not that bad. I have never written an entire novel by hand. I probably never will. My handwriting’s awful anyway. But writing a chapter or a few scenes can save me a lot of time.

You might be wondering why. After all, typing is light years faster than slowly scrawling out letters on paper. Word processors give you spell check, and the delete key is a lot better than an eraser or, if you’re using pen, scratching a word out. And yet I actually write faster when writing by hand. Here’s an example of my computer writing habits to show you why:

T + 0 minutes: I pull up the Word document.

T + 1 minute: Hey… I haven’t checked Facebook in a while.

T + 5 minutes: (Having pulled up Facebook) While I’m here, I might as well check my blog, my email, some forums…

T + 30 minutes: Wow! Where did the time go? I really  need to start writing! *furious typing*

T + 35 minutes: (100 words added to wordcount) Ugh. This is a boring scene. Maybe Facebook’s updated.

T + 37 minutes: Hey! A link to a video! That video’s hilarious – ooh, this recommended one looks cool.

T + 1 hour: Ok, I really need to get some writing done.

T + 70 minutes: For this scene I need to look up some stuff on race riots. *Googles race riots* Actually, maybe I should check out a book on Civil rights. I wonder where my library card is…

Yes, that’s the sad reality of my ADD life. Now let’s show an example of my handwritten schedule.

One of my millions of writing notebooks (which proves reincarnation, as it is in its second incarnation, the first being a chem lab book) It's on my bed, the perfect boring place to write, as beds have no wi-fi.

T+0 minutes: I should get some paragraphs done. *opens notebook and clicks open pen*

T + 30 minutes: Hey! I have 1000 words!

Strange as it may seem, handwriting can be way faster if you’re easily distracted. For maximum effect, lock yourself somewhere away from distractions and don’t let yourself leave.

For the record, I did actually have to look up race riots. I’m writing a fun book, can’t you tell? A truly dedicated writer, of course, would find a race riot and throw herself in. However, since I’m rather fragile and do not enjoy breaking bones in my spare time, I declined to do so. If you ever find yourself in one, however, please tell me what it’s like.