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?