Behind the Scenes

I have a favourite saying: 90% of research will never make it onto the page. It’s great to bandy about percentages like that, but it seems like an accurate estimation from my experience.

I love the research which is associated with my fiction, because I love learning and acquiring knowledge. It’s easy, too easy, to get caught up in discovering new pockets of the world we live in and delving deep into the detail and minutiae. But, by far the majority of any information I unearth will never translate to prose. It will not be added into the literal text of my story. What that bulk of knowledge will do is build a stable foundation for the written work to rest upon.

Facebook friends will know I’ve been working on a piece of short fiction known only as the unexpected story. It has an asteroid in it. When the flash of unexpected inspiration overtook me, I put in some place holder name for said cosmic rock, because I needed to get the words out of my head as quickly as my fingers would allow, and there was no time for checking into the facts of asteroid naming conventions. Once the first rush had passed, I could hit the internets and find out as much material as possible, and adjust the story accordingly.

Upon discovery of any significant rock hurtling through the vacuum of space, it gets a provisional designation, using a specific system to state the year, which half of the month, and its order of discovery for that time frame. For example, the eighth object found on June 10th, 2015, should receive a provisional designation of 2015 LG. Cool stuff to learn, but not what I wanted to know, no matter how interesting.

I kept looking and read that when the asteroid’s orbit is calculated, it changes to an official sequential number, in order of its discovery in relation to every other astronomical object previously found. They can also get a temporary alpha-numeric code based on when and where they were initially spotted. Well, still neat, but not quite to the point of straight-up naming an important asteroid.

I got to the good stuff and learnt there are some pretty strict guidelines for naming a celestial body of any kind. Follow the specific rules, you can propose a name, and the space committee will have final say over approving the name. But the really fascinating part, and the most important for my story in particular, is that Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) should be given a name from mythology that is not associated with the underworld or creation themes. Now we’re getting somewhere. There are lists published with all the names already used. It runs heavily into Greek and Roman mythos, unsurprisingly, but that isn’t a requirement for an asteroid.

So, I took my new knowledge, and flicked through some of my older research, which extensively covered gods from multiple cultures. In the end, I had to choose a fertility deity who comes from Australian Aboriginal culture, for all the myriad reasons it worked in the story. My asteroid is Anjea.

And without this blog post, no one would especially know, because none of this explanation ever makes it to the page. It’s important to the story, not in it.



Don’t panic: do something

Going in over your head is sometimes the only way forward. The next step is straight into the deep end, and you know it’s unavoidable. Instinct number one is to panic.

I’ve been panicking. Just a little bit. But mostly because I’d forgotten my simplest and best rule for avoiding that sense of losing control of my direction. I require a high amount of self-education any time I’m uncertain of my plans. If I’m lost, I just need to stop and find enough information that I am enabled to have more confidence.

Honestly, my biggest problem of late has been putting all my efforts out of order. I want to get this thing over here done as soon as I can, but I desperately need to do this other task first, and putting it off won’t change any facts. There are plenty of activities which can be done in any order, but certain challenges must be faced one after the other.

I got tired of feeling under-confident and uncertain. Instead of pretending like I can avoid the hard parts until the very end, I sat down with a search engine open and started typing my questions. Simple things I needed to know, the very concerns which triggered my panic. “How do I?” such and such. Figure out the answer as I go.

And yes, research of this nature takes a long time. Many pages of browsing, many refined search terms. Click, read, click, read. Pick up tidbits of information from this person, disregard what that guy has to say, stumble across other fragments of valuable knowledge and store them for later.

I know this is all rather vague. In fact, all my panicking has been vague and across the board – one crisis at a time is more than enough, but I decided to have a couple. You know, for laughs and “funsies”. Or something. But the good news is, I fell back into old habits!: Research. Learn. Find out everything I can to give myself the stability I require. I might not do any of my tasks right, even after all this, but at least I can provide myself the best possible start to tackling my concerns. Information. Education. Knowledge.

Doing something is better than flailing about in a blind, self-defeating panic. I know. I’m there.