Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do Your Homework

Sunday night, I finished a 2-day road trip from H***. I didn’t have any car troubles (except nearly running out of gas after dark in the wilds of Mississippi), but a trip that I expected to take 24 hours over two days took more like 30. Why? Lack of planning, although I had convinced myself I had things well in hand, before I actually left home.

Back when my family was driving to Orlando for our vacations, we had a ‘regular’ route. But in February, I wasn’t sure I trusted the weather in those Kentucky mountains, so I picked a ‘southern route’, to get out of the snow as fast as I could. What I didn’t notice, as I planned this route, was that the road that took me into Birmingham AL never came out again, and never connected to the road I wanted to take out of Birmingham. And just because a road is shown on the map as a divided highway doesn’t make it ‘limited access’, nor does it guarantee a consistent speed limit. I have taken so many vacations sticking to Interstate highways, I had forgotten these very basic things. Hence, the southern route that had looked so promising took a lot longer to make it work.

What does this have to do with writing? It reminds me of a basic tenant of writing that I didn’t understand for a long time … do your research.

I write fiction. I don’t actually have to research anything, do I? It’s all a matter of my imagination, right? Well, yes and no. I decide the route I take, but if I expect a character to, oh, say, commit murder, then I’d better make sure there’s a connection between what comes before that drives that person to murder and whatever actions he/she takes after the murder. And will the plot be an interstate, with very few options to veer off course, or only a highway, with plenty of opportunities to take a wrong turn or get caught in a slow zone?

Do your research. And when you think you’ve got things all planned out, take another look.

Now to find some wi-fi to get this posted. Assuming I can do that, I’ll see ya next week.

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