by Laura Michelle Thomas, jaBlog! Senior Editor
Part two of a six-part series on the steps of the writing process which Laura teaches in her book Polly Wants to Be a Writer: The Junior Authors Guide to Writing and Getting Published and the Polly writing workbooks.
Last month, we looked at the basics of getting into a new idea for a writing project. This month, we are going to talk about some strategies that apply to that awkward, bumpy period between developing your idea and finishing your first draft.
So let’s say you’ve had an idea for a story and you’ve started writing into that idea. You are saying yes to all your crazy ideas and are getting the story down. So you are writing along, happily, when you realize that your idea is starting to show holes. You have questions about these new characters, settings, and plot. And those questions need answers.
Here is where research becomes somewhat important.
But understand that I don’t mean you need to spend the next six months online or in the library looking up obscure details about the style of houses in Greece in 34 B.C. which you could then use to defend a thesis. This is where you just enough research to satisfy the needs of your first draft (such as one image of houses in Greece in 34 B.C.), which is really just a sketch of your story. Do just enough research to answer your question, then keep writing the story down.
What kinds of questions might spring up during first draft writing? You may need to find a photo to base your description of a character on. You may want to look at pictures of a setting. You may need to read an article about a particular issue that your character is going to go through.
What you do with your research? Keep a file on your desktop called “Research,” and use it to store your materials. This will save time and help you remain consistent and believable with your storytelling.
How much is too much? Think minimal. One photo or one article. Do not waste time on in-depth research at this stage. Afterall, until you finish your first draft you cannot know what parts of your story are going to stay and which are going to be cut.
Imagine spending a week researching something that you eventually have to cut? It’s painful. And the scary part is that once we invest our time in something like a whole week of research it become very hard to let it go, even if keeping it in means a weaker story. This is a major rookie mistake.
How choosy should you be with what you research? There is no right or wrong at this stage of the writing process. Be creative. Say yes. Have fun. Keep writing.
Up next, Step Three of the Writing Process: Focus