In my last post, I brought up the idea of inspired moments; those rare, unexpected factoids or details that grab us by the throat. Such experiences inevitably enrich our current works-in-progress or inspire brand-spanking-new ideas.
Just that sort of event hit me recently while watching a PBS program. The briefest mention of this man sucked me in like a vortex. I practically ran to my computer to learn more. An hour evaporated while I was tethered to cyber-space, starving to learn everything I could while dinner burned in the oven. I knew instantly that this would be my next project.
Since then, I’ve spent hours each day, combing through 19th century digitized newspaper archives, ordering out-of-print books, sifting a mountain of research material, and sending pleading emails to potential European research sources.
I happen to love research and can spend my life in discovery mode. It’s an addiction, really. Like a gambler, I’m always convinced that the next roll of the dice will present a jackpot. While in research mode, I fight the urge to start writing. It isn’t time yet until I have a three dimensional feel for the subject. Only then can I zoom my writer’s lens to a clear focus, culling a life down until a story arc reveals itself.
So, when is it time to stop the research and finally write? I feel rather like one of those well trained dogs who have been taught not to grab the tasty treat until it’s time; until the trainer says “NOW.” It’s difficult to be inches away, yet be unprepared as yet. That patient voice whispers to me, “wait for it…wait for it… wait for it.” It drives me a little bonkers, but I understand my process. I have to know what made this guy tick. Meanwhile, before fingers hit keyboard, my subconscious is busy visualizing the story so that, when the “NOW” finally comes, I’ll be ready to pounce.
If I had a formal checklist (which I don’t), it would look something like this.
The obvious: Full name, nicknames, birth, death, marital, children, locations
What was he like as a child? hobbies, habits, personality, etc?
The setting: What did my subject see, hear, eat, wear? What would be in his pocket?
What was happening in the world during the subject’s lifetime?
Transportation: How did he get around?
What made this person newsworthy?
What did his supporters think/say? What did his naysayers think/say?
What was his motivation, his drive? What made him tick?
What events or experiences led up to the pivotal moment?
What have his actions taught us about the human spirit?