Tag: Research

Quick Update: A Place for Images

I know many of us use images in our blog posts, in research, in idea boards, basically any number of places. The New York Public Library just uploaded nearly 200,000 images we can use for free. There are now available over 672,316 manuscripts, maps, photographs, lithographs, postcards, and other images online in high resolution and available for download.


A few images just for examples:

Old Map of Asia Black and White
Cover of the Negro Motorist Green-BookCouple in Warming Frame Japanese Art A ride at a fair with a tent saying "Life's Unborn"

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No Outlining Involved! Organizing for Pantsers with Post-its

Being a writer who doesn’t outline — called a pantser or an organic writer — has its special challenges. Even the organization process doesn’t always work quite the same way. So it can be frustrating at time to look for ways to make things work and only get things that work for outliners.

But Post-its are a great tool for pantsers. They’re actually fun to play with because you can rearrange them as you need to.

What we’re not going to discuss:  This is not going to be about a scary looking thing like Post-it Plotting.  There’s going to be no mapping of scenes on Post-its, or anything even remotely related to outlining.

Tools You’ll Need

  1. Post-its: Have fun shopping for them. They come in a variety of colors, and there’s currently a color scheme for locations like Greece and New York. You can even do different shapes if you want like hearts or daisies, though these tend to be a little more expensive than the square versions.
    What size should you get? I’d recommend the 3×3, if nothing else because there’s a lot of color variety to pick from. But they’ll give you a lot of room to write on, whether you write big or want to add more notes.
  2. Pen: Try a Sharpie pen. It’s got a nice soft tip, but is bold enough to stand out on most Post It colors. Better still, it comes in lots of colors and you may be able to grab packs on sale when the school items start popping up.
  3. Sketch Pad: Try 11X14, which can be found at art stores, office supply stores, and Wal-Mart. You’ll want large and blank, to give lots of room for your Post Its. An alternative: White board.

Post-its to build a list of characters

One of the problems I have is that it’ll take me a little while to get to know the characters, and names can be very hard to remember. Especially when I’m writing and another one pops into the story unexpectedly, or, in the case of a character I had — his name changed three times within 6K.

Enter the Post-it. Keep a large sheet of paper near your desk. I use an 11X14 one from an art pad. A white board would work, too.

When you add a new character name, write the name on a Post-It and slap it on the page.

If your character name changes, write the new name on a Post-It and put it over the old name. That way, you still have a record of the name in case you find it while you’re revising and don’t remember that John changed to August.

The nice part about this list is that it’s very flexible. You can do different Post-It colors for certain types of characters, like you might want to know how many male characters you have versus female characters, or family factions, or just pick random colors that work for you at the moment. It’s really up to you.

The Post-its can also be rearranged in whatever way you want, so you can shuffle them alphabetically or just slap them on the page in any old order.

A character list by Post-it

A character list by Post-it

Post-Its to build a story bible

A story bible contains really pretty much anything you want about your story that’s hard to remember.  The term originated from television, where TV series had to keep track of (sometimes anyway) details:

“This is ideally a binder with everything about your book contained in its pages: plot outline, character sketches, notes, bits of dialog, small details, scene description, research, etc. You’ll find this extremely useful. The habit to develop: get a binder, write notes on characters, plot, scene, dialog, and keep it updated, as soon as you’re done writing. So: write, log it, then update your book bible.”

When describing a story bible, most writers start talking about three ring binders, tabs, and then it gets complicated very quickly.  They also include planning, which is tough for a pantser.  We’re not sure where the story is going, so what would we record?  Like other parts of pantsing a novel, some stuff may come in and then, ultimately, never get used.  Then it becomes a question about time investment, because pulling out that binder, finding a new sheet of paper, making the notes, punching the page, and then figuring out where it should becomes a lot of time.

But a Post-It note is a good, temporary solution. Write down anything you need to remember and attach it to the page. Rearrange as needed. Once the story is settled, sort through them for what you need and order them into categories. Then you can transfer them to a more permanent document if you need to reuse them later.

Post-Its for additional novel research

During the course of the writing, you’re likely to hit spots where you realize you need to do more research. Like you need the names of local birds or a name of a place.

But being a pantser, you may also find that if you race off and do the research now that you end up not needing it because the story can change sometimes very drastically as you write. Conventional wisdom says to put the research note on a to do list in a spreadsheet or in a binder.  That goes back to the same problem of dragging out a spreadsheet or a notebook while you’re writing and recording this.  Or writing it down on a slip of paper, hoping you remember to record it in the appropriate place later.

Enter the Post-its again. Write a comment in the manuscript like “fussy (DOG BREED)” (mainly so you can find it again!) Then write the research note on the Post-It, slap it on the paper, and you’re done. Once you’ve finished the novel, you can screen them for ones that survived and still need to be done. The Post Its can be transferred to another paper and taken to the library. Pull off one and throw it away when it’s researched.

One of the great things about Post-its is that they only require a few seconds to pull out and dash something off on them. That makes them a very flexible tool to cope with the messy nature of being a pantser.

Video Saturday – #Diversity in #Writing and the Fear of Doing it Wrong, courtesy of the @YARebels

And the latest Video Saturday is something near and dear to my heart – Diversity. One of the biggest reasons authors say they don’t include diverse characters in so far as race, ethnicity, disability, lgbt status etc. is because they are afraid of getting it wrong. Although not perfect, this week’s video is a quick little pep talk urging folks to step up and go ahead and embrace diversity. It isn’t hard, and as people to whom creativity is the bread and butter of our work, this should be an integral part of our writing. After all, it is an integral part of the world, isn’t it?

Check out more from the YA Rebels at: http://t.co/cCka6LZdEV

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Thinking Smarter and Managing Writing Time

So much is being asked out of writers today.  We not only have to research and write a book, but publishers expect us to blog and use Twitter to help promote it.  But no one talks about how to manage the time for all of these, and the last place you want to be in is figuring out how to manage it with a deadline looming.

When I worked with a cowriter, an agent requested a full.  It was exciting.  I was envisioning that we would be taking the next step in our writing career.  But I told cowriter we needed to come up with methods to finish the book faster because of the publisher’s year deadlines.  Maybe he meant to be supportive, but he dismissed it, saying deadlines could be negotiated.  I had this immediate image in my head:  Him blowing off the deadline and me in a panic doing all the writing work at the last minute to make the deadline.

Doing things at the last minute takes control of time away.

And the last thing we want to do is try to learn how to manage it in an emergency.  I’ve worked in a culture where everything is an emergency and have had to learn how to manage time in the middle of it.

There’s a slow blogger movement, motivated partially by unrealistic advice to “Blog everyday” to writers (not understanding that writers are also writing books) and the unspoken lack of managing time.  I was in a blogging for writers class, and a lot of writers blogged three times a week — and waited until it was the next post needed to be posted before coming up with an idea and then writing it.  That turned it into an emergency that monopolized writing time.

Likewise, I’ve had a lot of trouble with research.  I don’t enjoy it, so I’m never going to get lost doing it.  But on my book, I’ve also had to go back to the research well four separate times.  As I started the first draft, I knew there would be an auction in the story, so I dug up everything on auctions.   In the revision, the auction disappeared.  I’ve also done “hit and run” research — I’m writing, and I realize I need a piece of information.  I stop, search the internet, and dig out what I need  An hour’s gone now.  Because I also don’t know really what information to look for, I’ve had to stop and do research over and over — and yet, still not get everything I need.  That eats at time, and it’s a lot of time.

Sometimes how we do things is the problem.  For research, I didn’t learn how in college — teachers just gave us term papers and said to make sure we had our sources. Like the research paper service sometimes, but that is a secret.  I even look at other fiction writers and how they research.  They start talking about binders and tabs, and I’m trying to figure out how to chose the information I need to research and what to record — and what not to record.  This is one of the reasons I’m taking a class on how to research starting this week.

What are you doing to manage your time better?

Writing Inspiration – Automata

A lot of this week has been busy with work, work, work but I did take some time to dig around for research items to support my interest in steampunk.  The truth is, there is something more fascinating about all the REAL items that really did exist than almost anything I could make up.  I spent far too many hours on YouTube watching these videos.  And then proceeded to have nightmares when I went to bed.  But it isn’t any less fascinating for it.

The Cleopatra below is awesome and a little freaky with the 70’s dream-like video.

[vsw id=”7P0cguq4KF8″ source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]


Next is a collection of classic automata and is the first half of the documentary where Cleopatra appears.

 [vsw id=”HxvosyMKGWA” source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]


This video is from a museum in New Jersey with some great stories behind their automata.

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And YouTube has so many more.  These are the ones where I began my online roving and they interconnect well to give a feel for the “eerie factor.”  Hmm, maybe this’d be better inspiration for horror.

Update:  Wednesday night we’re going to see Hugo which we heard actually had some of these classic automata in the film.

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WWW: The Writer and the Wikipedia 2

Alright, last week I started talking about Wikipedia but was really only using that as a segue into talking about the SOPA/PIPA blackout and my opinions of the bills.  Which isn’t entirely fair, because it sounded dismissive of everyone’s favorite online crowd sourced encyclopædia.  So let’s start over again, taking those first two paragraphs and turning it into a real post about research.

Whenever you put the words “Wikipedia” and “research” into a sentence together, there are people who will bristle.  And rightly so.  At it’s heart it’s a website where information is added by anyone and fact checked by volunteers.  However, it has a certain advantage too, in that it’s a website where information is added by anyone and fact checked by volunteers, who are often experts in their chosen fields.  I want to say that I agree with teachers and professors who are against the citing of Wikipedia by students, however on the site there is an expectation of citation that can serve as a fantastic jumping off point for further research.

And research is exactly what I’m talking about in this post.  Yes, I often use Wikipedia as a first source when looking up information.  While it’s impossible to immediately determine what information on the site is fallacious, a vast overwhelming massive majority of the information isn’t, and so long as you use the resources provided in citations to verify the information there’s a wealth of knowledge that a writer can pull from.

Let’s twist a common little piece of writing advice.  How many times have you, as a writer, heard the phrase “write what you know”?  It’s really dreadful advice, because taken in its most literal form it removes all science fiction and fantasy from the shelves.  It hopefully removes all horror.  Many thrillers are gone.  Clearly it’s not advice meant to be taken literally, and the phrasing is not “write only what you know,” but I think it’s still advice that gets in the way of more aspiring writers than it helps.  So let me change it up by flipping it around.  Know what you write.  If you’re writing fantasy or hard science fiction, be the world expert on your world.  Closer to reality, rely on research and stand on the shoulders of those who are experts.

This is ultimately why I love Wikipedia.  Yes, there are trolls out there.  Articles and subjects that are the victim of maliciously and intentionally false information.  Yes, there are people with good intentions but bad research skills, so there are articles and subjects that are the victim of unintentionally false information.  But for the most part the articles on Wikipedia are edited by people who care about the subjects.  And that’s important in the end.  These are the people with a bit of knowledge to share, and are hopefully providing citations for that knowledge.  It’s trying to be less and less the wild west of information that it has the reputation for, while still finding a balance with the crowd-sourcing foundation that allowed it to grow so quickly as a repository of information.

So don’t be afraid of Wikipedia.  Embrace it.  But…carefully.  As you might embrace someone who may or may not be holding a knife.  Double check citations, follow the information.  Oh, and don’t hit the random article button unless you’re prepared to lose half a day.  It can be more dangerous than TV Tropes in that regard.

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