Monday, July 11, 2005

Traveling even when I'm not

Writing a novel, for me, isn't a process of starting at the beginning and continuing until the end. I start out with an idea, like a few words scribbled on a sheet of paper. This takes weeks. I think about it while, and the words become something like a drawing, with stick-figures in pencil. Somewhile later, after a little research, I begin the outline, and by then, my new world shifts again, over the course of a month or so, becoming like a charcoal sketch. With more research, and more outline, it stretches and fills. Color is added. By the time the outline is done, my new world is a pastel or a impressionist painting, with the subject and the background easily recognized. The actual first draft changes everything. Impression becomes photorealistic. The landscape stretches around me, becoming a wrap-around panorama. I can see the sky overhead and the dirt below. I can smell the flowers and feel the hot sunlight. And the characters, who were just stick-figures before, are people with fears and hurts, with love and hope. They stay with me, years after the story is done.

These past few weeks, I've been outlining, and as the story progresses, I've been traveling from New Mexico, through Colorado and Wyoming with my characters. I know that land. I've been there quite a few times. Just today, they are traveling down Interstate 15, through Utah. We just went through the canyon where I-15 cuts across the north-western corner of Arizona. The lights of Las Vegas, Nevada are up ahead, not more than a few outline bullets to go.


Karen said...

I've never thought of doing research to write a fiction book. I always thought the author just writes from his ideas. What is an example of something you have had to research?

Henry Melton said...

Okay, let's look at my current project. The main character is a 16 year old boy. The family owns and runs a motel in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I need to know what chores are involved in running a motel and what happens when a key is lost. Satellite photos of Las Vegas, NM showed me an old railroad roundhouse that I didn't know existed, which led me to historical records dealing with the railroad in Las Vegas. That led me to locate my fictional motel near the roundhouse, which gives be more colorful background for a key scene.

Now another. I wanted background on the family, including how they thought and how they felt about their family business. That led me to visit a few small, non-chain motels, to talk to the people who ran it -- which led me to the fact that many motels are now owned by Indian families. Research into the historical reason for that revealed some Hindu cultural pointers that will make excellent contrast and compare when I write about Joe's family background.

And now a third, out of many others I could list. When a character is injured near the Cimmaron canyon, I needed to know where he would be taken for medical care. So I hit the web and discovered the clinic in Angel Fire.

Karen said...

That's cool. And I even see in this the need not to have your mind made up about what you think you want to find, but rather having an open mind and creativity for how to use what you do learn. Thanks for sharing.

Chris Nystrom said...

Yes, that is fascinating how that works.