After entrenching myself in writing for the whole of November, I haven’t written in December, besides this blog. Burnt out? You might ask. Slightly, but only from the pace that NaNoWriMo requires to achieve completion. In reality, I have been researching most of December.
No matter how much research an author does prior to writing, they will encounter areas of their work they didn’t anticipate having to learn more about. I am writing a historical fiction novel, so this is something I encountered quite often during NaNoWriMo, despite months of preparation.
My novel is set in Ireland in 1920, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Irish War for Independence, sometimes called the Anglo-Irish War. This is the war that broke Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, newly independent at the end of the war, and Northern Ireland, which remains under British rule to this day. If you encounter a person from this area, you may hear them refer to this controlled land as “The North of Ireland” depending on what side of the argument they are on. Hint: This means they still aren’t happy about being occupied.
In preparation for the intensiveness of NaNoWriMo, I spent August through October 31 constructing a three act structure outline of my novel and researching pre-war Ireland starting around 1900 from the political standpoint of both men and women. This is so I could understand the mentality leading into the war. I also researched the war itself. Reading non-fiction accounts of the time while concurrently listening to fictional novels on Audible ate up many months— the latter helpful in getting an idea of dialogue and phrasing, as well as the thoughts of everyday people. Phrasing I have a little knowledge about since my father was from Belfast, where my characters start out, and I visit family there frequently. However, modern phrasing is not necessarily the same as phrasing in 1920. Insights gained in well-researched fiction are often sparse in non-fiction books, and first person diaries and resources of that era are not readily available for me to read here in the U.S.. Looks like I’ll have to go on a research trip. Darn.
If you aren’t a historical fiction writer, you may ask why I’m researching non-fiction events for a fiction novel. Although most everyone in my book is fictional, as well as many of their experiences, they live in a time of turmoil and that effects what they do, where they go, etc.. A writer can’t ignore the significant occurrences surrounding their characters if they place them in an era of conflict. Especially a historical novelist. Lucky for us, we enjoy doing research.
My point is, starting NaNo, I was prepared. During NaNo, I discovered I have much more to research. Not as prepared as I thought. Knowing I couldn’t stop and read ten hours of research each time I came to a crossroad, and in order to move on with my story, I just marked area’s of my novel with annotations that tell me I need to get more information. I have since read author accounts of that speak of doing the same thing in their first drafts— reassuring to this writer completing her first novel.
An example from my novel looks like this: “Staying on the opposite side of the street from the monastery, I passed the enraged mob, scraping my palm against the brick building at my back. ((FML)) (Find out if there is a brick wall or building in that area.) Rounding the area of the armored car, I crept to the other side when a figure stepped from behind the vehicle into my path.” Please excuse the lack of editing in that passage, but you deserve an accurate look into what first drafts look like. ((FML))= Find More Later. Convenient that after countless times of writing this, I came to think of it as Fuck My Life. It made me smile in the midst of visions of upcoming research reaching unscalable proportions.
Why would I have to find out if there is a brick wall or building in the area of this monastery? My character is at an actual event that happened in Belfast, therefore it is possible that readers from that city will know the neighborhood. Well. Some things an author can fictionalize, but this neighborhood, including the houses and the monastery, still stand, so it is important to be true to the events and area when possible. Yes, tedious to some. Important to historical writers.
Writing at a rapid pace brings out a writer’s weaknesses in craft. This has lead me to spending December reading several books on the craft of writing. Currently, I am reading The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman and How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell before I write another word of my novel. This tells you how I feel about the quality of my NaNo writing.
I will be using these techniques with the remainder of my novel and then go back and edit the crap out of the part I’ve already written. I’ll edit it several more times before I feel it is even close to being ready to show to beta readers. Beta reader= Friend or colleague who agrees to read and critique your book before you show it to anyone “official.” Also see, guinea pig.
As far as content research goes, I am reading The Book of The Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer by Gearóid Ó Crualaich. This gives you a hint about some of the characterization in my novel. I have many more books of research to read/peruse in the coming months as I write, but the good news is that I will be able to stop and look up information as I write. No NaNo timeline to adhere to.
So there’s your peek into what a writer might be doing post NaNo. It also gives insight into what writers do when they aren’t writing. This month, you can find this writer, sitting by the Christmas tree with a glass of delicious pinot noir, catching up on the books and magazines I didn’t have the luxury of getting to last month. Just don’t ask me how I’ll find time to do the Christmas shopping, holiday planning, and cookie baking.