by Anthony Dobranski
At a recent convention – yes, even writers have them – a panelist used the term “research paralysis,” to describe that state of fear and procrastination in which a writer keeps going deeper and deeper into research, as if the novel will be found in other people’s footnotes.
Novels are stories of people, of emotion, of action and reflection. History shapes the stories, and illuminates characters’ motivations – and that’s where it has to stop!
Thus there are always liberties taken for the sake of narrative. I certainly don’t want to place D-Day in 1947, but if I need a government office to stay open an hour too late, or neglect the unlikelihood that a person would have enough gas in a time of rationing, so be it. If such small errors are where your attention rests, I failed bigger and earlier.
So, at the start of November I switched gears, leaving the comfort of history for blank white screens. Right now, I am outlining. My outlines are for me alone, scattered text and lines of dialogue, characters who still don’t have names, often comically incomplete.
Hero takes binoculars [field issue?] – astro event?
Why is Heroine late? TIME??
Walking in town – must make bus
Agent talks about visit to Japan pre-war
reference to sushi? v odd in 1942
“don’t concern yourself overmuch with the ingredients”
Pages and pages of this, like excavating a fossil from one’s mind and then inventing a dinosaur from it. It is dull awkward work, the least glamorous and most isolated part of writing, but it gives a shape and scope to my story that will let me focus my research, which will improve the story, in what I hope is a virtuous circle. Think of it as building a whole bunch of still lifes at once, so that next year I can limit my effort to painting.
At least I am not alone. Many writers and aspirants across the world are frantically banging out pages and pages, this and every November, in the yearly event of National Novel Writing Month.
I considered doing this too, trying to develop a fast first prose draft, but a serial is a tougher structural challenge. Once the first chapters are online, I can’t go back and change them. I felt I would be wiser to figure out the whole story arc first and then fill it in closer to when you see it. Perhaps the work will feel a little fresher too.
Wish me luck!