Posted by on in Magnolia City

Avoid flimsy fiction!

I use a lot of construction metaphors when talking about writing novels, because I think structure is an important element of good narrative. I once read that “Writing is the manual labor of the mind,” and I thought, “Oh yeah!” I remember penning a letter to my aunt after finishing a huge section of Magnolia City: “You’d think sentences were made of lumber, dry wall and nails, so exhausting is the struggle to be articulate.”

One important element of this is the scaffolding that good research can bring into your work. I have found from experience that if I try to write a scene before I’ve done enough research, the scene will feel like it’s built out of veneer instead of real wood. It will feel generic and pasted together hastily. Good hard facts and details authentic to the period are what’s needed to bolster the story and give it strength.

A good example of this is my recent work on the sequel to Magnolia City. I’ve been having fun creating the portrait of an evil Grade Five teacher at Montrose Elementary School in Houston, Texas, circa 1952. I couldn’t find enough details about the school to bring it to imaginative life in my mind. Even the Texas Room at the Houston Public Library, where I did a lot of research for Magnolia City, wasn’t helpful. But writers have a new secret weapon: Google. After a search, I found a site with pictures of old schools in Texas. Someone had even photographed pages out of the Handbook given to teachers in Harris County, where Houston is located. This gave me the back story I needed for this teacher, and even the language that would have been used in those days. “Mrs. Spinks” sprang into life! I started hammering away, and a series of well-constructed scenes finally developed. It was the research that enabled me to nail it!  

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Guest Monday, 19 February 2018