Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Process Examination # 7: Focus Point

For this writer, inspiration doesn't always come in the form of a great character, or a fascinating conflict, or a beautiful setting, or some intricate thematic concept, or a grand plot. This is particularly true when I'm in the midst of writing a novel. Inspiration comes in odd ways during the novel writing, often when I'm thinking about some niggling macguffin of one sort or another. That is, the niggling detail is important in that it frames a daily aspect of the characters' lives but isn't really central to the plot.

In this case, I was trying to get some details figured out for exactly what the medical device that one company sells and that my MC repairs/maintains/audits/what have you does, other than the hand-wavey "it uses advanced tech to sequence DNA, hunt for illnesses, and monitor cellular processes in a short amount of time". Hand-wavey is good for vague plot directions and outlines. It's bad for actually composing draft (unless you don't mind going back in to put in details). And I was in the middle of a chapter in which I realized how much the hand-wavey details sucked for my space ship mechanic.

So, of course, I side-stepped the mechanic's details and went to the MC's job details. Helpful for the next chapter I need to write, not for the one I'm currently mired in. BUT, it worked! I got the most amazing idea for my medical device. It's specific enough that it acts as a focus for further research I need to do on the topic.

Research of any kind needs a focus point. As someone who participated in academic research for five years, I obviously knew this. I just don't think I ever quite understood it. I've known for a while now that THUMB was going to be addressing cybernetics in a big way. I even tried to do a little bit of general research on the topic to get my bearings, but I was frustrated that no clear path to what I needed for my story emerged (not in the sense that I wanted answers for how a futuristic technology would work; more in the sense that I couldn't escape the general). So I set the research aside and kept writing, wanting at least to keep the story going, knowing I could add details in later during revisions (though this would not make for a pleasant rewrite).

Now that I know how the medical device works, that serves as a focus point for the cybernetics research. I know what interface of biology and technology I'm looking for now. I can read articles and books with that in mind, culling details when they turn up. Another chunk of the novel falls more securely into place, serving as greater assurance that I can in fact make my way to "The End." It's the reverse of "connect the dots." Pre-writing inspiration, of the sort I described in the first paragraph, provides snapshots of an overall picture, which I then dutifully piece together in a way that seems to make sense. Inspiration while I write is like a microscope, showing me the subtleties of that picture. But if the microscope has nothing to focus on, it's still a big blur.

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