I’m doing research for a story I’m working on, and have found myself wallowing in a wealth of rich, complex, historical goodness. Which is wonderful—and maddening, too. Because how much do I use? How much does a person draw on, before history begins to outweigh the story? I’ve been mulling over this all weekend, and the only solution I can think of is the same one I tell myself when I’m having trouble with anything else: Keep it simple. Narrow your focus. Remember the characters. Confine details to what needs to be told in order to carry the story, and don’t get distracted by tangents that wave at you merrily like wee little octopus legs.
AMENDED TO ADD: Okay, that’s not always great advice. Sometimes one’s focus can be too narrow, and often those happy tangents need to be followed (as they lead to beautiful, lovely, accidents in one’s story). But in this particular case I’m writing a novella, which exists on a much smaller scope.
Tomorrow I’m going to work out a brief outline—sketching connections, place, time, trying to weave all these juicy historical threads into something that resonates. And then when that’s done, set myself loose.
In other news, it is Tobias Buckell’s three year anniversary working as freelance writer, and what he had to say resonated deeply with me:
Since 2001, all I’ve ever wanted to do was basically be the me that I’ve been from 2006-2009. It’s hard work, being your own boss. And I do work hard at this (I’ve met many a person who heads back to the security and predictability of a day job). But I love working hard for me, because it’s working hard at things I love.
Amen to that. I highly recommend reading the entire post. Meanwhile, I’ve got seven days left in Shanghai, and I’m going to make the most of them.