There is an old maxim—“Write what you know.”
True enough, but sooner or later you might want to write about something you do not know anything about. Then what? Give up on the idea? File it away in a dusty filing cabinet with the farewell thought, “Someday”? Or maybe you grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground and command (as a writer friend of mine once said), “You will conform to my wishes!”
Everyone has their own style of research; my style may not be yours, but as long our style works for us that is all that matters.
Okay, let us say you want to write a story about a chimney sweep. Sounds simple, but to make your character and story believable, what exactly does a chimney sweep do? How does the sweep do it? Time to check Wikipedia. Check YouTube. Just Google “chimney sweep” and see what crops up. You will start to develop a database. In the process you will probably uncover details that might have an impact on the plot of your story that you had not foreseen before. And then, it is time for the moment of truth. Go find a real chimney sweep and interview him or her.
Be sure to bring a digital recorder with a lapel microphone—a backup for each is a good idea too. And a pad of paper and working pens.
Preparation for an interview is crucial. After your initial research you now have a far better idea of what questions to ask. Start off with the basics—age, education, hometown, what did the parents do, etc. Married? For how long and what does the spouse think of the chosen vocation? In the early 21st century how does a chimney sweep find work? Internet? Yellow pages? Post notices at rural feed & seed stores? The clothing worn—is that something of a “chimney sweep uniform” or just the person’s chosen clothing?
As the interview progresses do not hesitate to pounce upon an interesting remark or ask the person to clarify a remark. You never know when a stray comment may lead into unexpected and fertile research territory. Be sure to keep your interview to 30-45 minutes, no more than an hour.
And you have it. You conducted your initial research, learned enough to frame proper questions like an old pro, and you conducted an interview. You can now add factual, believable information to your character, to your story.
It will be easier than you think. Tell a person why you want to interview them, buy them a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, and you will discover that people enjoy talking about themselves and their jobs. Your job is to listen.
So, good luck, good research and writing, and enjoy!
PS: You may wonder why I chose a chimney sweep as an example. I read an article in a Colorado Springs newspaper many years ago and was surprised to find such professionals were still around. Since then I have always wanted to include the character of a chimney sweep in one of my stories.
SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 grandchildren, and a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). He has served in the Army National Guard since October 2004, and holds the rank of staff sergeant. He is a published photographer and photojournalist, an aspiring painter, and is studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in underwater archaeology. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories, and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, Ruthie’s Club, Lucrezia Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. As of December 2011, he became the latest homeless Iraq war veteran in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can purchase his books here.
Today’s guest is another Musaling, this time an editor and freelancer to bring you a totally new perspective. Please give Brianna Soloski a warm welcome.
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When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher or an author. I went to school for education, but ended up not going into that field. I was working at a preschool, but was laid off in 2008. I floundered for two years after that, moving a few times, not working, unsure what I wanted to do. Summer 2010 found me in Seattle working at a summer camp. It also led to a long chat with my cousin about what I really wanted to do with my life. She suggested I go back to writing, since I’d always enjoyed it and been relatively good at it. I turned that over in my head for a few weeks. When I got home, I began volunteering at the Jewish Community Center in Las Vegas. I also got wind of a local city lifestyle
magazine that was just starting up. I called the editor and asked if there were any volunteer/internship positions available. I got a volunteer gig putting together the print calendar – a tedious, time-consuming job nobody else wanted to do. As time went on, I got more responsibility. About a year and a half ago, the editor who had hired me quit and I moved into the (now paid) position of editorial assistant. I still do the calendar, but I also write and edit for the magazine.
From there, writing just became a natural habit. I participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2010 and had that novel published in October 2012. In 2012, I made the decision to freelance full-time. I run a freelance editing business that is thriving. I work for an award-winning magazine. I have as much time to write as I need. I can come and go as I please. I still work at the Jewish Community Center part-time, but I’m hoping to have enough business to phase that out by the summer.
How I came to Musa Publishing was kind of accidental. I had recently read Twin Sense by Lydia Sharp (amazing!) and sought out the website to see what other books they had to offer. There were a few freebies so I picked those up. I signed up for their newsletter. Just for kicks, I clicked on the employment page, just to see if anything was available. There was a head line editor position open, so I applied, even though I wasn’t sure I was completely qualified for the job. Turns out, I wasn’t, but I was offered a line editor position, which I accepted.
I’ve edited four books for them now and I absolutely love it. Line editing is the process of going through a work line by line to check for errors. I do not edit for content (although I do offer content editing through my personal business). The opportunity to read great books is wonderful. The experience is invaluable and will help me as I move through my career and take on other jobs.
The thing about Musa that really shines is their professionalism. In a little more than a year, they’ve published a remarkable number of books. Every title I’ve read from them has been excellent – well written, well edited, etc. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to an author looking for a home for their book. In fact, it’s highly likely I will submit my current work in progress to them for possible publication.
Bio: Brianna Soloski is an avid reader and writer. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Sierra Nevada College. She also obtained her teaching credentials from the college. Although she’s not currently teaching, she enjoys spending time with her friends’ kids. In her spare time, she loves to travel and would love to book
a world cruise – imagine the memoir that could come from an adventure like that! Girl Seeks Place is available for purchase on Amazon. She can be found blogging at http://www.girlseeksplace.wordpress.com. She can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brianna-Soloski-Writer.
Today I’d like to introduce Anne Marie, author of La Dame a La Licorne, brought to you by Musa Publishing. This will be her ninth year participating in Nanowrimo. Lucky for those of you scrambling for ideas and trying to figure out how you’re going to outline a novel before November first, Anne’s got some ideas of her own about outlining which I hope you’ll enjoy.
For the past eight years I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (aka: NaNoWriMo or NaNo). Every year I’ve tried a different approach to writing. I wanted to prove to myself that there isn’t one way to tell a story, and the methods outside my comfort zone might actually work better. Besides, what’s comfortable about writing 50,000 words in one month? Answer: everything when you’ve got the NaNo community with you each step of the way.
There are at least three types of writers: Outliner, Beader, and Pantser. I’ll detail each method, and what to do before and during November. I hope it helps you reach the finish line on November 30th (or earlier).
You’re the type of writer that wants to know exactly how you get from the beginning to the ending. You write pages and pages of detailed character sketches, setting description, research notes, twists and turns, and how each scene will play out.
Before NaNo, make sure you don’t write down any dialogue or actually description you’re going to use. It’s tempting to dive in before October. If you get stuck, put your outline away for a week. Return to it with a fresh mind and see if you can improve it during the last week before November 1st.
During NaNo it’s helpful to check your outline and make sure you’re on track word-wise. There is no set word count for a scene; however, if you have twenty-five scenes that run two thousand words, and you write a scene a day, you’ll finish with days to spare. Since the daily word goal actually is 1,667, you might want to write a scene with that word count in mind. For a thriller writer, your scenes may be shorter to keep the pace fast. That’s fine! Just know, roughly, how many scenes it will take to reach that daily goal.
Much like the Outliner, you have a pretty good idea how your story starts, important scenes in the middle, and how it ends. What you don’t yet know are the linking scenes between big events.
Before NaNo, the big scenes are what excited you to begin with. Concentrate on how to link the explosion on page 1 with the alien invasion on page 15. Read books in your genre. Talk to your friends. Ask them how they would logically get from explosions to aliens. Day-dream.
During NaNo, your daily payoff will be to write those explosions and invasions. Which means, you should start each day writing the linking scenes. Your reward will be writing those scenes you’ve been thinking about since October. And rewards never hurt. If you don’t make your daily goal with a linking scene and a big scene, write half of the next linking scene. Generally, you’re going to be writing more linking scenes than explosions.
You throw caution and preparation to the wind. You might have a vague idea about the topic you want to write about, you might not. You might know a character’s name, but then again, you probably don’t.
Before NaNo, it might be helpful to brainstorm some big general ideas that won’t tie your free spirit down. Where do you want to start? Where do you want to end? It’s always helpful to have an ending in mind, so that you know where to steer your NaNo ship.
During NaNo, every day is going to be a new adventure. Sit down and follow your characters. Throw everything in their way. They want to go to the mall today? Make it rain. Give them a flat tire. When you get stuck, stop and think about how you’d get out of the situation they’re in. Make it worse.
Whether you’re an Outliner, Beader, or Panster, NaNo teaches you how to embrace your style in thirty days. Remember, this isn’t a polished piece. If things aren’t flowing the way you want them to, don’t delete. Put a note in the document. Trace your steps back to the last point the story was working. Continue writing from there. When you go back to edit, you can delete all the non-working words. When I know I’ve gone on a dead-end tangent, I make all the text red.
Good luck! I hope to see your purple “Winners” bar on November 30th. To follow along with my progress, you can find me here.
Bio: Anne attended the University of Colorado for a BA in English Literature, where she fell in love with folklore and myths from around the world. She adores languages, great white sharks, and the impossible. Her work usually includes one of those three things. She currently lives in Aurora, Colorado with Brody the beagle. Once a week, she posts a short story at Cimmerian Tales (http://cimmeriantales.wordpress.com). You can follow her on Twitter @annemariewrites.