Thursday, March 20, 2008

Science and Fiction--OR What Can I Contribute?

This time, after having written several blogs, I struggled with finding that special topic. I knew I wanted to write about the writing process, particularly about the choosing the original germ of an idea, but what could I write that hadn’t already been written?

Some say write about what you know, others argue you don’t have to know yet—as long as you care, you can learn. So, I questioned myself—what do I know? In my other life, I am a professor and a mother. The mother part I might leave until later since there are so many wonderful women writers out there who also happen to be mothers.

There may not be as many professors, particularly research scientists, who also aspire to be romance novelists. In several of my classes, I teach the scientific method, pretty basic stuff, but in my senior capstone course, we analyze just how realistic the method is. We also apply the method to a variety of problems, not just research ideas. Thus, I concluded—why not apply this universal approach to picking the perfect premise (no guarantees here, maybe fiction isn’t a science, we’ll see…)?

The first step in the scientific method is to observe a problem. I actually want to focus this blog on said first step. When I ask my students to write down everything they’ve observed before arriving in class (as historian Karl Popper did), they observe a bunch of pretty boring stuff. Out of a class of 25, we may come up with one potential study. Moral for writing: in the morning, when you rise (okay, that’s a gospel song), write down your dreams. When you read the newspaper and a story strikes you as intriguing, write it down—same notebook as the dreams. When a friend’s life takes an interesting turn, write it down. Otherwise, you may come up with nada.

As your Mom and/or Dad probably told you, you’re going to need to kiss a lot of frogs to find that prince, um, premise.

Another thing about observing a problem—not just any problem will do. In science, before you even arrive at a hypothesis, you conduct a literature review. Why should writers take the easy way out (um, because it’s easy)? The hard way, and therefore it must be the right way, is to read what’s already out there. You knew that already. But here’s where I may contribute…analyze each section. Okay, that’s already been said. I meant analyze it BEFORE you read it. Huh? Here’s how it works. Read the cover blurb. In your notebook, jot down thoughts about how you might write this book. What might your hero and heroine be like? You’re not cheating, these are your ideas. How would your people meet? Then, read a section of the book. How would you do things differently? What kind of a twist could you give it (we’re not into replication here)? Then, read another section. Stop. What would you do next? Twist it. Did anything seem like a misstep? When you’re done, put your notebook aside. Relax, then come back and writeJ.

That’s how science progresses. A step at a time. And then big jumps when someone has a creative outburst. Both are crucial—and fun.
So, what do you think? How do you choose the idea for your next book? How do you narrow down from the million little problems/premises that come your way?


Dorothy McFalls said...

I've heard stories of scientific advancements coming from dreams. That's where many of my plot ideas get their start, too. I think the subconscious mind (not bogged down with outside clutter or the ego) can come up with the best stuff!


Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

I am a big believer in using dreams as a jumping off point but not all dreams are created equal. I make a note of all my dreams but I focus on recurring themes or a dream that repeats several times. That's the one I start playing with. :)

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Dorothy,
Thanks for coming over!! As you can see, we have slow traffic Monday through Thursday, but better for our guest bloggers!
I do think dreams are a good start, but then they have to stand up to testing:)
Have a great day!

Lexie O'Neill said...

I think that's what I meant:). That is, not all ideas are equal--the two steps away in the "scientific method" is to collect data, to test your idea against reality, or in our paranormal case, a semblance of reality.
What do you think?
P.S. I'll try fixing the picture when I get home--not sure what happened there. But too much blogging at work could be a bad thing...:)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Absolutely! I guess I never thought of it as the scientific method but that's exactly what it is. Some dreams are fun and interesting but they would never really work as a novel. Other dreams are so bizarre they wouldn't work either. But every once in a while along comes one that passes all the points you made and that's the one I work on. :)

Savanna Kougar said...

Lexie, I just thought it was my computer on the pic. I never thought of it as the scientific method, but I have done a lot of what you outlined. When I go through the RT magazine, see the blurbs, the promos, I often let my imagination soar as to what story I would write. Or I might spin it to fit a story I'm already working on. Actually, I have lists and lists of phrases and titles I've concocted that way.
And dreams have often been a great jumping off point for me too. Of course, most of them would get thrown on the junk pile. But like Anitra says, there's that jewel that shines into a story.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Also, when I re-read your blog, another thought occurred to me--the idea of taking the tried and true and not just twisting it, but folding, spindling, and mutilating it.

My current novel, Virgin Harvest, grew out of a dream and a common theme I see in romance--the idea that men should be experienced but women should be virgins until they meet that magical "one" guy.

That common theme got me to wondering who the heck are these guys getting all their "experience" from if "good" women remain virgins?

When I twisted, spindled, and utterly spun that idea around, I found the premise for my novel.

I'm not sure if that's exactly the scientific method, but it does fall into line with what you are talking about. :)

Lexie O'Neill said...

Anitra and Savanna,
I think we're having a great discussion here...too bad the others haven't joined in:)
I love the idea of going through the RT and writing down ideas...that's a good step removed from someone else's book and a lot safer given the world of plagiarism out there.
Love the idea of twisting and mutilating, you take off the mattress tags, Anitra?
Have a Happy Easter,

Holli Bertram said...

Great idea to analyze BEFORE reading. Most of us probably do that to some extent - read the blurb, imagine how we think it will be written, then decide whether to buy the book. But I really like the idea of doing that more systematically and as a tool to spark story ideas.
Anitra - Now I really want to read Virgin Harvest. Love that title.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

BWAH-HA-HA! I eat mattress tags for breakfast!

LOL, not really, I actually stick with oatmeal or poached eggs, but I always found that cautionary "Do Not Remove" just too alluring. I HAVE to remove the tag--I can't help myself! Clearly, I have a sickness. I MUST buck the status quo even if its only ripping off a mattress tag.

Is there a 12-step program for someone like me? Not really diabolical but not really on an even keel. Hmmmmm.

And thank you Holli on the title Virgin Harvest drawing you in. It is everything you think and nothing what you think. :)

Savanna Kougar said...

Anitra, those tags are amazingly annoying, but I usually end up ignoring them as something 'stupid'. That could be a whole new career. Twelve step for obsessive mattress de-tagging.
Yeah, I've always wondered that myself -- way back when I was a virgin. Just that many more bad girls putting out? 'Course, back then I didn't account for the prositute trade -- being relatively sheltered. Boy! Was that a long time ago. In a galaxy far far away.
What? do you pluck virgins off trees like apples?

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Lexie, fascinating blog. I studied biology at university so I'm familiar with the scientific method. It amuses me the way some people think scientists are all hard logic, when in reality, the greatest scientists utilise their imagination just as much as any 'creative' person.