I write today in Uttar Pradesh

THE MOUNTAINS I CAN’T CLIMB ARE MINE

Years ago, when I set Pride’s Children in 2005-2006, I worked out Book 1, PURGATORY, in a little more detail than the remaining volumes of the trilogy (there being only so much you can carry in your head at a time, and Book 1 was quite a lot to handle).

I emphasize that the rough draft was complete, Book 1 to the end of Book 3. I know what is happening – I’m an extreme plotter, and little of importance has changed since 2000.

Some of my research has come back, not so much to haunt me, but to challenge me, as I work through turning an unbelievably rough first draft (don’t be fooled by the perfect spelling, and all the punctuation marks being in their places) into the final draft, a one-step scene by scene process for me.

Victory after a month?

I finished a scene, which took me over a month to write, yesterday. I listened to it (one of my final steps) and declared it finished to my exacting standards (hehe), posted in my victory journal, and started working on the next scene immediately.

And immediately ran into a road block at a deceptively-simple plot point:  What time do we leave the hotel in the morning?

Did a bit of quick research on distances, times, and roads in Uttar Pradesh, India, and realized I had a whopping big plot problem.

One part of the research held: I had changed the date of the scene by three days, but the sun still rose within two minutes of my original date. Don’t laugh at me – it’s a plot point, and I pay attention (so the readers doesn’t have to) in great detail when I can. I think I need that degree of detail myself, when writing, to fully go somewhere inside my head which I can’t go to in reality because of time or distance – or because it’s in the past.

Research tools have changed

But when I wrote the rough draft, I was not concerned with details of traffic and distance in India. I did a quick pass, found the things I needed, figured I could nudge or hedge enough to make it work – after all, the scene had bridging a time and spatial gap only as a minor part, and moved on to the more important character plot points.

Today, I had to pay for that.

I had to have characters be somewhere at that particular time – which meant they had to get in a car at an appropriate time, and go to bed at a time which went with the rest, and have dinner first (all of which should be transparent to the reader), and fly in from the other side of the world.

Google Earth: villain and hero

Google Earth showed me it wouldn’t work. Not as I set it up originally, because they do such silly things as calculate how long it will take you from Point A to Point B at a PARTICULAR time of day on a day which might not be in 2005 (that calculation is lost), but can be extrapolated, with some care and patience, from what it might take today. Or next Tuesday.

It’s designed for commuters and tour guides. It is amazingly useful for me.

I hope some day to have a host of Indian readers – it’s a huge market of English speakers which has been barely tapped because of other problems such as rural electrification, vast population density, and its immense size. But I’m not going to be successful with them (assuming they actually like and read my writing) if I mysteriously shorten the distance between two Indian cities in an area where people actually know how long it takes to go from one to the other. The suspension of disbelief will go Poof!

There are many side benefits to spending time with errant details

The area is more real to me than ever before. And it was pretty solid then.

Other details that are important – and peripherally hooked in – such as who sits next to whom during a conversation, suddenly have answers from logic, not imagination. Thank goodness for real-world anchors occasionally! It gets a little rarified in the cloud-cuckoo-land of making it all up as you go.

And because I started Pride’s Children to tell myself a real story, real in the sense that it could happen, not necessarily that it did, I can believe my own lies.

 

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13 thoughts on “I write today in Uttar Pradesh

  1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    The internet really is marvelous for research. I loved it that last year I could find online a bronze smith who both studies how Bronze Age smiths went about their work and creates Bronze Age weapons that are real (not just decorative). I was able to read his website to learn more about Bronze Age techniques from him – someone who actually works as a smith himself (and was thus much more than just a researcher). And I could watch videos of him dong the work.

    Since the novel I was working on was set in the Bronze Age of my North-lands fantasy world, and featured a character who controlled the flow of metals and materials to the weapons forges of a war citadel, all of the above was incredibly helpful, but would have been impossible before the internet. How would I even have discovered that such a smith as Neil Burridge existed? And even if I had, how would I have found the money to travel to England and attend one of his demonstrations or workshops?

    Anyway…I agree with your assessment of the tools available today. 😀 And I am so glad to hear of your progress on Book 2. Great news!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I think the research we do is worth the efforts – and the results. But it certainly keeps us from turning out a book a month!

      Oh, well. I don’t think I’ve read of someone who has gone from one style (meticulously researched books) to the other (make it all up and have it magically work) successfully and done well with it. Do you know of any?

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      1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

        I’m not sure I know of any research-free works that I like, let alone a writer who has transitioned from one process to another. Every writer who writes stories I enjoy and has shared his or he process does at least some research or else knows so much about the setting/milieu that the knowledge fills in for research. A caveat: I’ve read plenty of works by writers who don’t share their processes, so my opinion on this probably lacks validity. 😉

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          When my most common thought about something I’m reading (or viewing) is “Oh, come on!” it may be due to a lack of writing skills or it may be due a lack of research.

          Either takes me out of the experience.

          Not everyone feels that way about what they read.

          Some literary fiction does that to me: I cannot read Saul Bellows, for example. I don’t know what psychology books he read or which people he obserrved before he designed his characters, but they don’t connect with my brain as even possible.

          But then, I live in a tiny bubble – I’m really the odd one out. And a good writer can make a lot of things plausible.

          I like to learn a few things by experiencing them in a story.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks. I would love to be known worldwide.

      I had NO plans to do anything but write the novels you’re seeing develop when I started. India is organic, is almost a good half of the second book, and the way it fits into the plot is critical, so I’m not pandering. I’ve always loved India.

      I’ve been there once a long time ago, and it is still incredibly vivid – and I add to that with documentaries and movies as they come my way. Fascinating place.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      For someone like me, who leaves the house as little as possible, even a trip to the library is an excessive use of energy.

      Fortunately for me (it is not true of all of us ME/CFS types), sitting at my computer is something I can manage for several hours a day. I can do my research from where I sit.

      It’s still exhausting, correlating the results of me prodding the internet with questions – mostly because Google throws so MUCH at you for a search result – because I have to pan for gold.

      But I don’t have the physical expenditure of energy to get dressed, walk out of my house to the car, drive to the library, walk INTO the library, interact with the lovely librarians (I miss them – I could visit when I was younger), do some research… All of which woul come out of the energy I reserve for writing, because, for example, you don’t want me driving without paying attention, do you? Even if it’s only ten minutes!

      I manage a recalcitrant body so I can write a bit every day, and I’m hoping for the day when they fix us, and I can go back to doing things in a more usual way – without paying for it for days afterward.

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