Ah, yes, here it is, November 11, and I’m clocking in at word 10,048 of my National Novel Writing Month story–only 8,000 words or so shy of where I should be if I were the type of person to worry about these things. Which I really am, truth be told, but worry isn’t the same as blind panic, so let’s just imagine me tossing my head in a devil-may-care manner and laughing merrily in the face of pressure. Or tossing back a stiff scotch in an oh-crap-time-you-are-an-evil-cow manner and whimpering less than winsomely in the face of cold, hard truth.
Or maybe let’s not imagine me at all. That might be easier.
Let’s talk instead about research and all that simply fabulicious advice that gets tossed around about how important it is to avoid diving into the Google brain-suck pool while trying to hammer out that first draft, even if you desperately need to know whether a Sig Sauer takes a magazine or a clip or if you load it by gripping bullets the size of fingers between your teeth and spitting them into empty chambers. Even if you want to know whether it’s possible to perform a Bilateral Cingulotomy on a brain with only a paring knife and a couple of toothpicks (not recommended, by the way). Even if you think your story is doomed to explode into a million shards of fictive splatterosity if you don’t discover right this very exact minute how many times a day Spongebob Squarepants has to take a poop.
The preponderance of interwebby advice seems to be, “Stop! Don’t jump! Step away from the Google and keep your eyes on the story. The gaps will wait till later.” (Tell that to Spongebob after he’s stuffed his spongy self with prunes and Metamucil.)
It’s good advice. Obviously. Why waste precious noveling time trekking through the webbyverse to find out whether the frontalis or orbicularis muscles are responsible for lifting the eyebrows and making the forehead all crinkly (it’s the former); or refreshing your memory regarding the more entertaining names for the highly poisonous Caladium plant (Heart of Jesus or Angel Wings; good grief, who names these plants?); or trying to nail down that perfect shade of blue for your villain’s eyes (ultramarine? viridian? glaucous? International Klein Blue?–go on, I dare you).
Obviously your story can wait for you to plug in those pivotal bits of plotterificness at a later date. No brainer, right?
Except–and you had to know this was coming–except sometimes the story can’t wait. Sometimes the story plonks its butt down on the big comfy couch and refuses to budge until you feed it a few tasty tidbits of knowledge, of lore and legend, of nourishing Google esoterica. Sometimes the story wants the facts, ma’am, and nothing but the facts will do to get it moving again.
And the other part of the “except” is this: sometimes this weird and wonderful detour into the land of rollicking factoids brings unexpected gifts, new directions, a previously uncontemplated story angle. Sometimes that “waste” of times pays off in unexpected ways.
Of course, that could well be one of the reasons I’m 8,000 words behind, too, so you might want to go with the experts on this one.