Sunday, January 31, 2016

Researching before, not after.

I keep having this experience of researching the locale or history of a story after I've written it and finding that my story contradicts reality.

How fealty do I owe to reality in a fiction story? At what point do I offend reality so much that the reader scoffs and puts down the book?

There is probably a fair amount I can get away with, but every instance of getting it wrong is an excuse for the reader not to like the book.

In the latest book, I'm dealing with a university and professors and marine biology and geology and Seattle and much more. Every one of these are outside my own experience and I could be getting it entirely wrong.

So I try not to make any egregious errors, and bend reality my way in a way that is acceptable, hopefully, in an adventure novel.

I'm at 60,000 words. The four chapters I knew I had to write at 50,000 words are still ahead of me. I found that I hadn't really fully explored the character arcs of some secondary characters. This is likely to turn into a full sized book. (80,000 words.)

Anyway, yesterday I just couldn't write for some reason. So I made the mistake of starting researching and immediately realized I had some problems.

So the problems can be finessed or ignored, or they can be dealt with.

Dealing with them means a lot more work, but probably a better book. Problems are always a good excuse to improve the plot.

I've written two novels recently that required no research at all. They are set in a world far enough removed from reality to be able to wing it all the way through. I wish all books were this way -- but unfortunately, most aren't.

With "The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Murders," researching turned a 55,000 word novel into a 95,000 word novel, a much more satisfying and complete read.

("The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Murders" is being published tomorrow!)

So this book, "Deep Sea Rising," is dealing with the Cascadia subduction zone and deep sea creatures and tsunamis and ocean blobs and methane release and....well, I can address most of these issues through a little rearrangement of the plot, a little filling out the details. It will be work, but it will make the story stronger and more textured and complex. More interesting, I do believe.

So I have to do it. Whether I want to or not.

I wonder if I could avoid these problems by doing research before, not after. But I keep coming to the same conclusion. Write the story, then adapt it to the research. It makes the story most important, and it can almost always be done, though it makes for more work.

But the work always improves the book, so it is an opportunity not a loss.

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