Sunday, 8 November 2009

Research and Planning

Just a short thought on research, and how much people do for various pieces of writing, because my friend Adam Wilson has been revealing over the last couple of days just how much planning goes into his short story writing process. For one piece, "Eight plus Eight" (largely about communicating without a shared language, through the underlying concepts of numbers) he spent an afternoon sitting a mile from his girlfriend, attempting to teach her the language used in the story over an internet link, through a programme he put together in QBASIC, without using a word of English at any point. Even for his normal stories, Adam ends up with bizarre mind maps that I can only make any sense of if I happen to have the story in question to hand.

Contrast this with my own approach, which hardly ever involves any specific research at all. Though admittedly, that's because I'll look into these things for fun, without the need for the prompting of a story. In that sense, I guess you could say that the research is pretty constant, and that the difference isn't quite as pronounced as you might first think. I've even been known to write page after page of notes on occasion. The only difference being that I then generally forget where I left the things and have to write from memory.

Even so, I think that the two approaches result in quite different types of story. Adam's short (ish, one of the things this seems to do is push up the length considerably) pieces are generally meticulously detailed, elegantly plotted, and quite deceptive up to the end. (Also rather good. Read them if you get the chance). They're like some delicately fitted together watch, where all the pieces fit perfectly so that nothing goes "spoooiiing" at an unfortunate moment. Mine are generally a bit more vague, they certainly won't count as hard sci-fi any time soon, and frankly I quite enjoy it when bits go "spoooiiing" in a suitably amusing way somewhere in the middle.

And the best bit, the absolute best bit, is that both approaches work. Which is just as well really, since I haven't got a clue when it comes to QBASIC.

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