In September, 2019, Rhobin wants to know, “In designing your plots, what do you rely on most: personal experience, imagination, or research?”
Well, Rhobin, all I can say is, I don’t know!
Twenty years ago, I could have given a firm answer, because I was meticulous about plot design. Before starting to write, I had a dossier about each main character, and knew what was to happen to them and where, in considerable detail. Oh sure, as I wrote, some events dropped out, others emerged, new people came along and sometimes caused major changes — but overall, the plot came first, the story then developed from it.
I think this is necessary for an inexperienced writer. It sure beats having a story go nowhere, with dangling plot lines. That’s how my first two attempts at writing a novel turned out.
But then, Sleeper, Awake came along. I only had one design specification: the entire story was to have no villains. Everyone was decent and well-intentioned, and yet I wanted to have lots of tension. I must have done OK, because the book won an award, and a few months ago, John Rosenman gave a very favourable review. He doesn’t throw those around lightly.
What I had initially was a person: Flora Fielding, who tried to escape cancer through cryogenic storage, but then woke into a new world after 1433 years of “sleep.” I didn’t know any other characters until they introduced themselves to Flora, and through her, to me. I found out about the world, its rules and happenings as Flora did.
This worked so well that since then, I’ve even been writing short stories that way. So, Rhobin, I cannot answer your question, because I don’t design a plot!
Being contrary, I’ll do my best to answer the question anyway.
I love research. After all, being a research scientist was the first occupation I retired from. As a kid, one of my favourite books was the encyclopaedia. History, geography, physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, sociology, anthropology… If it’s a body of knowledge, I find it fascinating. So, my writing always involves research, which is SO easy now, with the internet. In the olden days, I used to spend 8-hour days in the university library.
- Whatever I am doing, I am also observing life and translating it into words. I look at the expression on a face, the movement of a hand, a flower, the scenery, on joy and suffering and squalor and magnificence, and all of it is stored away, to emerge some time later. Everything is ammunition for the machine gun of my imagination. It will become part of some work or another, perhaps a long time later, transformed and hidden and combined with other experiences.
Finally, imagination is one of my curses. I have all too much of it, and it intrudes at the worst times. I don’t know how many times in my life I tripped on my tongue because of having too much imagination. However, it is a good thing when crafting a story. My friend and writing mentor Florence Weinberg is one of the few people who have read the fourth volume of my Doom Healer series, The Prince of Light. She was very complimentary about the many life forms I described all around the Universe.
And here is Chapter 23.
By the way, I’d love to have a few more beta readers for the Doom Healer books, so if you enjoy inspirational modern history alternative reality science fiction, send me an email. Yes, that’s what the genre is.
Anyone who comments has earned the right to have a free read of one of my Doom Healer books. As I told you, I am seeking feedback. But you are allowed to comment, and yet decline the prize. One of my rules is, I can ask anyone anything, as long as I can accept a no.
Then, please visit this bunch of ladies, and see what they have to say. Yes, by some coincidence, I am the only male participant in Rhobin’s Rounds.