In the previous New Book Update, I talked about how, when I’m writing nonfiction, I strive to get as much out of each stage in the creative process before moving on to the next stage.
But when I’m writing fiction, I spiral through some or most of the stages, then drop back and spiral through again. (The stages of the creative process are detailed in chapter 4 of Around the Writer’s Block.)
The further my character’s experiences are from my own, the more I need to intertwine First Insight (where you want to ask as many open-ended questions as you can) and Saturation (where you go looking for answers to those questions).
For example, one of the characters in my new piece of fiction, Honu, is a Polynesian or Malaysian boy living before his people had contact with Europeans. I need to learn more about Pacific Island cultures before I’ll know what questions to ask specially about Honu and what happens in his story.
The background research I do for fiction gives me plot elements and specific details that can make the writing sing. Those story elements and details raise more questions that lead to more research. (For an excellent article on uses of research in writing fiction, read “A Recipe for Illusion: Memory, Imagination, Research” by George Rabasa in Views from The Loft.)
For example, I recall that some early Pacific Islanders traveled impressive distances between islands to trade. That nugget rolled around in my brain with other bits of trivia for awhile (which was a short trip through Incubation, the third stage) until I realized – in a mini A-ha moment (aka Illumination, the fourth stage) – that Honu’s father and uncle were traders who married into a different sub-culture.
So now I know I need circle back to Saturation and explore pre-contact Pacific Island trade: routes, what goods were traded, customs, boats, etc. This research will give me more story nuggets mixed with a lot of trivial information. I won’t know what’s gold and what’s tailings until I imagine more of the story.
So far, the mini A-ha’s keep me motivated even when I’m trudging through reference books that are 99% irrelevant to my search. I’m having a lot of fun with this new, still relatively undefined piece of fiction.
What stage(s) are you in your writing project(s)? Are you having fun?