Making the Map as I Go

I need to watch things and feel like I can do that, too, or feel like if that thing got made, there’s no reason I couldn’t make one of my own things.

          -Will Wheaton

One more trip around the sun down, aka brand new year of me. Lovely birthday experience all around, with lots of love from dear ones both in person and in cyberspace, requisite reexamination of life, some reading, some writing and cake-like things on top of frozen yogurt in lieu of actual cake, and we now embark on a new week of a new year.

my partners in  pondering

my partners in pondering

Today, I came to the sad conclusion that my office is, indeed, the place the internet goes to die. If I move a few feet to my right, as in leave my office and set up shop in the kitchen, everything works fine. Except for the fact that I am in the kitchen and not in my office. Which is kind of the point of the whole thing, a special room where I can Get Things Done, behind a closed door, Writing Cave sign (at this point, a faded Post-It with “writing cave” written in similarly faded Sharpie on it) optional. Housemate said it sounded like there was some sort of lead shield around my office. Good enough explanation, as the entire list to date of devices that cannot get connection in that room and only that room includes:

  • ancient desktop
  • old laptop
  • possibly the older than that laptop, but Merman took that one over so long ago that I don’t remember, so it gets half credit
  • new laptop
  • tablet
  • first smartphone
  • second smartphone

By the time even my phone could only take less than a minute of connection before it made like a tired toddler and refused to do anything, I decided it wasn’t worth my time and effort to make things work. I’d take things old school and bust out the pen, paper and three ring binder, because it is indeed story bible time. I’ve resisted making one for a while, because character questionnaires and such tend to make  me forget not only very basic things like my character’s ages and appearances, but that I understand English.

Cranky Anna does  not like filling out forms.

Cranky Anna does not like filling out forms.

Getting all my ducks in a row, however, is essential, as I am dealing with more than I can keep in my head right now. The calendar says I am a big girl, so time to be that big girl and do what I need to do to get this book written. Which means, in this case, I have to haul out The Binder. In the past, I’ve tried to do it the way I “should,”  which means the way it has worked for other people. The “research” section generally ends up with me resentfully printing out a few webpages of historical detail, three hole punching them and never looking at them again. Normally, this gest accompanied by a hefty dose of negative self talk about not being smart enough or intellectual enough or academic enough, etc, but that is what Real Historical Writers do, so :grits teeth: on with it, girl.

This time? No. This book is mine, and this story bible is mine, and it’s going to serve me, instead of me serving it. So far, I have a section labeled “story junk,” a section for my hero, one for my heroine, and one labelled “support,” a purposefully catchall term. Dividers are littered now with sticky notes of various sizes and colors, all the things I’m going to need to know scribbled down in hasty scrawls, with lots of blanks and question marks. Those who have known me for any length of time know that I am prone to overthinking things like this, so I am shoving some of the work off onto Critique Partner Vicki, who actually likes looking up such matters. I can send her my out of order lists of things that have to happen and who was born when, and such, and she can send me back a timeline.

The things that throw me are the numbers. Dates, distances, how much things cost, how long it takes to get from point A to point B in a carriage vs on horseback, and how long it will take mail coaches to make those same trips. Also transatlantic travel when the options were “ship” and “how long can you tread water?” It’s not enough to know that certain characters have stately homes “in England.” Where in England? Manor? Castle? What does it do? There are duties and obligations that come with being a peer, so, in the case of characters or their families who fit that designation, what are they? Fine, the earl can send his son to Eton and Oxford, but what did the boy study? How did he do in those studies? Would he have rather studied something else? Expectations are different for my second son hero (with a happily married and remarkably fecund big brother) than they are for his only child best friend, dear old dad’s heir. My heroine? Mostly taught herself. She’s resourceful.

This, for me, is the grunt work, and I can’t rush it. I’ve torn the outline apart, put some back together, and some of it now needs to be shaped by the realities of what was practical and/or plausible for the time. Which is not to say every person who lived in historical period X always did Y and never Z. Far from it, but what works for this writer who goes heavily by intuition, is to see what the world my people lived in was like, and from there, see how they respond to it. That’s where the fun comes in, but the foundation has to be laid first.

2 thoughts on “Making the Map as I Go

  1. Remember: we don’t technically NEED the Internet to write. To research yes, but that’s separate! We wrote quite well without Internets, reeeememberrrrrrrr. Computers work without Internet connections, too! As I constantly remind myself…

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