Researching the novel

The last few weeks have been utterly hectic, filled with work, family visits, volunteering shifts, job applications, and bizarrely, an unplanned lead role in a fringe theatre performance. I worried that my time spent thinking about the novel would have to take a hit. Drawing up a schedule for the available days I had in March turned out to be a waste of time when life intervened and the twenty one days became six!

It seems though, that I have been rather more productive than I’d anticipated. I suspect that the schedule has helped me to focus my efforts in particular directions, and I have done a fair amount of research during March so far.

Part of this research has been to read and take notes from the book On Writing, by Stephen King. I’ve booked myself onto a creative writing course in the summer, and this is one of the suggested reading titles. Fascinating as it is to take a look into the writing processes of one of the most well-read authors in the world, I am glad that I came to it having already begun to establish my own way of putting together a story. King believes that a story is a ‘found thing’, and that it is the writer’s task to carefully excavate it and reveal it to the world. For that reason, he does no preparation for the story, merely taking a situation and developing it as he goes along.

I am yet to write anything beyond a small short story, having spent all my time so far on preparation!

The reason for this is that I feel comfortable slowly building up my knowledge of the world I am going to write about. I want to understand my characters fully, and know what their motivations are before I tell their stories. I currently have three main characters, all of whom have different backgrounds, thoughts, opinions, and experiences. I feel like I cannot give them voices until I know them really well.

One of the main focuses of my research this month has been the reasons people are attracted to supporting fascist politicians. My novel will be set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, with characters who are drawn to this ideology. A day spent in the library of my old university (I’m an alumni member) reminded my just how much I loved studying for my degree. I made a list of books that I can refer to in the future and noted from each why they will be useful. Spending time in the library at this time of year also reminded me of the stress of exams and deadlines – it was full of panicked students making frenzied adjustments to last minute essays!

Perhaps I’ll wait until after the deadlines to make a return to the library.

I now have a vague idea of the structure of the work, and am beginning to feel a lot more confident about actually writing it. Hopefully April will provide me with some opportunity to switch off the rest of the world and get writing!

Sarah Jayne


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