ASK MIMI #9: Tips for Researching Your Novel, Inspiration, Editing, & Backstory

Hello, my fellow authors out there!

I love getting craft questions, mostly because I rarely get the opportunity to talk shop. So keep ’em coming!

These questions come from Katie Easton.

Dear Mimi,
How much research do you do before writing your books?

Do you draw inspiration from other authors, and how do you keep their voices from seeping into your writing too much?

At what point in your writing process do you go back and review what you’ve written?

When writing fantasy, how much do you feel you have to explain about the world building to make it accessible to the reader? And when does it become too much detail and you just have to expect the reader to fill in the gaps themselves?


Dear Katie,
All wonderful questions! I’ll try to be brief on some so this doesn’t become a book. LOL!

You asked: How much research do you do before writing your books?

Sometimes ZERO. Sometimes hours. But never more than that. While I adore authors like Diana Gabaldon, who do copious amounts of research for their historical fiction, I am a selfish, creative glutton. I enjoy letting my imagination take over. I want to know just enough to make the story have a believable structure we can settle into, but I need to play in the white space. Anything that doesn’t have to be factual, I throw into my soup of possibilities.

Next: Do you draw inspiration from other authors, and how do you keep their voices from seeping into your writing too much?

I draw very little inspiration from other authors, at least in the genres I write for, because I’m obsessed with creating original stories and staying away from cliches. I HATE cliches. I’m much more likely to get an idea spark from a movie, but even then, I’ll make a conscious effort to go my own way. Also, I don’t have much time to read anymore, and when I do, it’s for my critique partners or it’s a book completely unrelated to my genres. Right now, I’ve been reading technical books about screenwriting. I’ve been reading screenplays.

If I do happen to read a romance, mystery, or thriller, I’m not worried at all. I think because I know my style and voice, I know how I write and what I like to write. I’m fully aware when I’m reading of how different my material feels from anything else out there. I’m not saying I’m better, just different.

That said, I think it’s great if another author inspires you! Just be sure you really leave it at that. Inspiration only. For example, if you read a book about a ghost king and then think…Wow, I want to write about a ghost king. Make sure your ghost king story is entirely your own. Your plot. Your voice. Your characters.

And let’s face it, everybody borrows ideas from everyone else. I mean, how many authors have been inspired by Dracula? How about Anne Rice novels? Lord of the Rings? Fifty Shades sparked hundreds of kinky billionaire books. And don’t get me started on Jane Austen. There are probably hundreds of thousands of books inspired by her novels. In reality, most sub-genres are really just a big giant grouping of books that have been inspired by other authors with one core idea that had to start somewhere. Regency = Jane Austen. Vampire = Bram Stoker. Billionaire romance = Fifty Shades.

The point, like I said, is to really make the story your own and make it unique!

At what point in your writing process do you go back and review what you’ve written?

Generally, when I open my file to start writing for the day, I’ll back up at least one chapter and do a light edit. It helps get my head back in the story. When I hit a creative roadblock, where I’m unable to add chapters, I go straight to chapter one and start editing. It saves time since I’m going to have to edit that material anyway. As I go through that first real edit, I gray out those chapters so I don’t touch them again until I’ve completed a full first pass on the entire manuscript.

When writing fantasy, how much do you feel you have to explain about the world building to make it accessible to the reader? And when does it become too much detail and you just have to expect the reader to fill in the gaps themselves?

This is a tough one! I think I tend to overexplain things, so then I get worried and don’t do enough. This is where an editor and critique partner come in handy. They will hopefully flag areas where I haven’t explained something properly (or it’s been so long since I mentioned a fact that it’s time to remind the reader) or where I’ve gone too deep.

But hopefully the feedback process will reveal if you’ve done it correctly.

Other tips:
1. Keep a list of world-building facts you need to provide the readers.

2. When you add that fact to your MS, place a marker right there in the story. Make sure it’s the same marker, ex:

Jenni blinked her eyes twice, the method for evoking her time-travel spell (FACT), and then proceeded to jump to 1980.

Using a marker like this allows you to go back through the MS and search for all your (FACTS). During that second or third draft, you’ll want to go through your list of facts (required to understand the world) and check them off.

3. As you’re editing, highlight any areas in a chapter where it’s heavy in narration/telling. I call them “data dumps. ” Those long paragraphs, where there’s no action or dialog, are generally spots where you’ve gone too far. You’ll want to go back and give them special attention. See point #5.

4. Be ruthless when it comes to editing. Even if you spent 4 hours working on a paragraph and every single word is perfection, but it doesn’t work with the story (has too much detail, slows down the pace, or is irrelevant), then chop, chop, chop! Your loyalty has to be to the reader and storytelling.

5. Always ask yourself: Does the reader really need to know this? If yes, then the next question is if the reader really needs such a long explanation. If it’s still a yes, but you find it takes up 2 pages, then it’s generally best to break up that narration into smaller bits. Sprinkle them in throughout several scenes. Note: This is where #3 comes in handy. Once you’re working on that 2nd or 3rd draft, you can look for other scenes to sprinkle in your world-building facts so it doesn’t feel like a data dump.

I hope this helps your writing process! Break a leg.

Mimi


WANT ADVICE?

Each week I’ll pick one question, or a few, from readers and aspiring authors about:

   – sex, relationships, & family

   – the writing process & business (trad. and indie)

   – unicorns, Big Foot, the Chupacabra, & traveling mermen

   – the Universe and random crap

   – all of the things I am not an expert in, but have an opinion on! (That pretty much covers everything above.)

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTIONS HERE: mimi@mimijean.net (Specify if you want to be anonymous or if I can use your first name. Include your hometown or state/country.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Tags: , , , , , ,