11, November 2015

Nanowrimo and the risks of research

nanowrimo‘Stretch goals’ we used to call them, when was that? The 90s maybe, then ‘audacious’ goals and then goals somewhere along the line morphed into either challenges or indicators – depending on if you get paid for delivering them. Nanowrimo is a challenge that stretches what you think might be possible for you to achieve within the arbitrary timeframe set for your challenge by the rules of the game . There are lots like it (Inktober for example) and nearly all of them hold their traps and risks. In Nanowrimo, one of the demoralising traps is ‘comparisonitis’ and a risk is ‘research paralysis’.

Nanowrimo and ‘Write what you know’

You’ve probably heard the advice to ‘write what you know’ and during the NANOWRIMO challenge it makes sense because you probably don’t have time to research the thing you want to set your story in or around. If it is fantasy, no worries, make that stuff up and move on (this can be tiring, but there are heaps of tricks to this). You might think you’re off the hook with Science Fiction (or speculative fiction) but oops, not so. Readers are wonderful, clever people with all their attention on your world.

You better have a decent excuse for how that spaceship got to where it is if you expect any of your other technological excuses to fly too. ‘Continuity of world’ is so very important. Readers don’t mind suspending disbelief in one or two areas in the name of entertainment, but you cannot afford to jolt them away from your narrative with broken edges or logical gaps they fall into and cannot get out of.

Nanowrimo can feel like a sprint when you’re trying to get down dialogue between your characters or descriptions of their world, but the moment you come to a real world detail that you know is going to matter, unless you already know it, you stop and check. If you’re experienced at this particular game you do not do this, you simply put in your own code for ‘check this detail later’ (BARNACLE for example – anything you can do a ‘find’ command with) and keep moving because you know that to stop now for research is a terrible risk to run. A risk you probably can’t afford to take.

Research is not writing

Oh it feels so good to be learning something and you just know your characters and plot are going to explode with this fantastic detail you’re getting! Trouble is, oops, where did that hour go? And that one? You’ve only got a limited amount of time for writing and every time you hit up Dr Google to help you with a name for someone or a town or any detail you know you need, you’re going to be distracted. There’s 20 fantastic search results in less time than it took you to hit enter. Even skim reading those is taking your mind away from building what you were going to say next. Research is awesome and one of my favourite parts of writing, but honestly, when you’re up against the clock, indulging in it is a bit of a rick. Type in your best guess, whack a BARANCLE to it, and move on.

Happy story telling everyone.