08 September 2007

Being sidetracked

Last night, I sat down to write a post about the school plays I'd just been to see. One of them was all about a newly published novelist, and made me think about the importance of research.

In this play, which was otherwise very good, hordes of fans were waiting excitedly for the store to open so they could purchase the book on its release. Now, why would they be fans if the guy has never been published before? If it had been a sequel, I could understand it. Just before that the publisher came around to visit the author and kept saying how fast-moving the book publishing industry is. Huh? And said that they'd just finished publishing his book, and would he now like to look at some cover designs? Huh? But my favourite gaffe of all was that the publisher brought around a very substantial royalty cheque on the day of the book's release. Wouldn't we all love that? But of course the book was doing very well -- it had sold more than all all the Harry Potter books put together.

I don't mean to slag off at it, because it was very enjoyable otherwise, but it reminded me of how important that kind of research is. It wouldn't have taken too much to get it right, or at least more right. In any case, most of the audience wouldn't have know -- or perhaps the errors were meant to be part of the joke (like how many copies the book had sold obviously was). And I think that one of the students had written it showed that the school does have some serious writing talent that they're fostering; another student play had won a major scriptwriting competition and is going to be produced professionally. The author is fifteen. Pretty darn good.

But today's post -- or rather thinking about how I set out to post about the research in the play and yet never mentioned it. Sometimes I get sidetracked when I'm writing too. I know the scene I was working on in the group novel last week, I just got carried away and the setting and circumstances got bigger and bigger, and in fact probably too big, as others pointed out when I read it to them. In my fantasy novel two characters whom I had no intention of getting together fell in love.

Sidetracks, subplots, unforeseen directions can offer energy to a novel. They keep the writing fresh for a writer -- and I think especially for those who meticulously plan. Surely it's the great undiscovered, unplanned for things that keep the writer interested in keeping going. Otherwise, why do it? Well, for me at least, there is that thrill of new discovery. I embark on a novel like a journeyman with only a scrap of a map: I have a good sense of where I want to get, but not necessarily of how I'm going to get there. And even in the redrafting process, it's the new ideas that pop up, the new nuances in character and motivation that make the journey fresh. That's why I love to write -- it gives me the same sense of discovery that I get when reading a new book.

No comments: