Monday, November 2, 2009

Day Two -- Using Real Places in Your Story

When writing fiction, sometimes it's fun to create the setting out of thin air. You are the founding father of your city or town: you get to name it, decide what buildings are there, who will populate it, who will visit your town and how they'll arrive, what kind of work people will do, whether or not they are married and have children -- and pets, who their friends are, and their relatives. You are in control of their waking and sleeping, their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and expirations. You decorate their houses, pick out their clothing, and even determine their personalities and character traits, and how they will talk. In short, you control everyone and everything in your book.

But what happens when you decide to introduce real people or real places into your fictionalized novel? Suddenly, the rules change. For example, if I decided to use George Washington as a character in my story, I can't call his wife Sally or have him reside in a twentieth century apartment in New York City. I might be able to write an account of a fictional event in his life, but family names and geographical locations would have to line up with what is historically accurate, and the fictional event would have to occur at a logical place in his life's timeline.

As I began writing chapter two of this year's NaNo book, I realized I needed to do a bit more research before I could proceed. Although my story is fiction, there are elements in it that are based on something that may or may not have really happened, but are definitely tied to a real place. Some of my fictional characters are college students at the very real University of Vermont. So, I had to do a bit of research about the dorm names and locations, what the library was like at the time in which the story is set, how long it would take them to drive from their dorm in Burlington to a friend's family home in Stowe (another real place), and where in Stowe that home would be located. The legend on which the story is based also takes place at a certain time of the year, so that, too, had to be accurate.

Had I known I'd be writing this particular story, I could have done my research in advance. But if you read my blog yesterday, you'll know that I switched plots at the last minute. And, although I had done a rudimentary outline for this particular story two or three years ago, I had not yet researched the historical elements.

Normally, that wouldn't create a problem. But when you're trying to write a novel in thirty days, you don't have a lot of time for anything other than writing. Time spent on research translates into less writing time, which translates into a lower word count, which translates into more pressure to meet the daily goal. So, how did I do today, you ask? Actually, not bad. Since I exceeded the 1167 word count minimum yesterday, it gave me a buffer for today. When I combined yesterday's 2425 words (a slight revision added one word to yesterday's original total) with today's 1268 words (a shortfall), I still had a two-day total of 3693 which leaves me with a buffer of 359 words heading into day three. It's not a lot, but at least I'm not lagging behind. And, who knows -- I might be able to work on it later in the day and get that word count even higher.

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