Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Quarter Turn and a Hurdle - Research

25,000 words (75 more to go!)

Yeah, it's a meaningless milestone, but it feel like I've done something anyway. I've been at this almost a month, and I've got major and minor characters strutting and fretting upon the stage, a sense of what they all want and how they all get in each other's way, and everything seems to be shaping up nicely.

Until I hit the hurdle.

One thing about me: I *love* to waste time. I love to read. Writing can be hard. Put those three things together and you have 'research'. I can surf the net for hours, or check a big old pile of books out of the library, or better still, spend half a day in a musty used bookstore looking for something I'm *sure* I need. Calling it research somehow makes it okay.

Except it's not. It's time-wasting procrastination, is what it is, and I don't get much done that way. So these first drafts come rolling out without a darn bit of research. Except for whatever I was reading that got the guys in the basement excited in the first place, of course. Oh, and my street atlas. But even that one's not strictly necessary.

Mostly, I just hit the first draft at a dead run. I use my general sense of people, how we work together and how we don't, the sorts of rules we set to get things done and the ways we shade them to goof off.

The rest of it, I just make up.

Where I *must* have a proper name, date, whatever, I *highlight* it (Like that) and go back and find it later. Later that day, later in the second draft, later. The made-up stuff I also go back and check up on. Weird thing is, I'm right more often than not.

Most of my research (the real stuff, not the time-wasting) comes on the net (thank you wikipedia!) or from the library. I interview real people whenever possible, and that info is gold. Not so much for the dry facts I could find elsewhere, as for the little stuff no one would think to mention (do detectives take their unmarkeds home at night? can a knight in armor really do a somersault? what gets sore first on a street hooker?) (the feet and the lower back, apparently). And more, much much more importantly, a sense of the way my informants look at the world. What do they want? What are they worried about? How do they think their world could be a better place? Do they think it's getting better, getting worse, or staying the same? How do they feel about their job?

I'm lucky. I meet a WIDE variety of people, and I genuinely like *most* everyone I meet. I try to see the world through lots'n lots of eyes. Makes it easier when it's time to make stuff up...

A lot of times, people give you little gems you'd never have thought to ask for. Pour dark rum over the roots of marijuana plants to up the sugar levels. A two-handed battleaxe requires a zone offense and defense; for a rapier, it's all about beats. Tuck folded newspaper or magazines up your sleeves to protect your inner forearms in a knife fight. The street girls can order whatever drugs keep them going through the night by cell phone and have them delivered right to their corner.

So this weekend I met a manager at Paparua Men's Prison. Funny thing, the phrase 'I'm a writer, and I was curious...' seems to relax just about everyone. Enough to open up to a guy looks like me anyway. I got lots of little stuff about the prisoners, the guards, the upper management and the sometimes strained relationship between Corrections and the cops.

And I hit the hurdle.

Turns out the news item about the mall cops handling prisoner transport was only true in Auckland. My book's solidly set in Christchurch. I've got some changes to make.

What am I doing about it? At this point, nothing. Sure, somewhere in the back of my head, the gears are spinning, but mostly I'm just trying to get through my first draft. Baker needs to break jail. That's all I need to know right now. I'll sort out how when it comes to me.


Charles Gramlich said...

I use Wikipedia a lot myself, but (LOL)it doesn't have much information on such items as which part gets sore first on a street walker. Maybe someone needs to start a resource for that kind of information.

Good advice on keeping an eye out for timewasting "research." Sometimes creative writers can be most creative in finding ways to avoid writing. I've done it myself.

Steve said...

I have a raging Minesweeper problem, myself...