One topic which seems to come up quite a bit when writers get together is process. How do you come up with ideas? Do you ever have writer’s block? What are the tricks to getting published or attracting the eye of an agent? The internet isn’t suffering from a lack of hotspots to find answers to these questions, or peers to engage in discussion. In fact, it’s such an excellent resource for writers, I can’t imagine what people did without it.
When writing Abyss of Chaos, I cast my main character as a 26-year-old child prodigy cellist, thinking to keep the primary narrative in a perspective familiar to me. Everything else was “catch as catch can,” as the saying goes, and I had to learn all kinds of details I never imagined I’d need to know in order to tell a fun story — details that threaten to derail everything if they aren’t handled properly. For example, have you ever read a book and thought the author missed the mark? Have you ever played armchair quarterback, proclaiming how much better someone’s story might have been if they’d only done this one small thing differently. Jar Jar Binks anyone?
OK, so in that case, it wasn’t a flaw so much as it was a decision. It was a decision to include a character who could potentially alienate his fan base, but what about outright screwups? Often I’ll catch stuff that is needlessly flawed, and this is something I struggle to avoid. Take FOX’s House, (an awesome show, by the way, this example notwithstanding) when Hugh Laurie suggests they get a dolly to help someone cart their cello up a flight of stairs. A dolly for a cello? How does something that stupid find its way onto a television show of that stature? It’s not like they didn’t have an actual cello on the set. How did it not occur to anyone — an actor, a camerman, a security guard — that, “gee, this thing isn’t really heavy enough to warrant the thing in the script about the dolly…?” But writers make mistakes like this all the time — hoping, praying, that the suspension of disbelief, or a clever slight-of-hand in the story-telling will be enough that you won’t notice.
My moment of panic came when writing about the FBI, CIA, the Mossad and National Intelligence Estimates. What the hell do I know about anything like that? Beethoven 5? Got it. Bartok 4th string quartet? Maybe. Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine? Ah, no. Not really, no.
So I fumbled along, reading books that seemed to provide a straight path to an answer, and surfing the internet when they didn’t. In a way, that is what makes search engines so great. The search engine isn’t too sure what you’re looking for either; sometimes it’ll serve up a myriad of unrelated pages which prove even more helpful than what you thought you were looking for. That said, here are some fun, arcane (if you’re a cellist, that is) resources I found along the way.
Sometimes I’d find sites like this one instead of official sites, and these are great to get your creative juices flowing. You get the idea.
This research is one of the primary things that attracts me to writing. Exploring topics that are intrinsically interesting to me is ridiculously indulgent — and awesome. Imagine, surfing the internet all day, or checking out a mountain of books from the library for research — as you like, and all in the name of “research.” Even better — you also get to improvise. After all that research, you may become overwhelmed, and just when you’re sure your head is going to explode for having long since reached maximum capacity with all there is to learn about the story you want to tell, remember: it’s fiction, people. In writing fiction, you are encouraged to invent. So have at it! Invent boldly, and pray, as we all do, that our fabrications are a bit better than the dolly-for-a-cello-on-the-stairs variety.