Around 3 a.m., my brain urged me to rise and continue research. Writing is learning. There’s the knowledge that comes from tapping into the right side of the brain. I believe the pleasure a reader experiences from reading a fine piece of writing comes from an author’s successful capture in words of right brain information.
I’m grateful to the authors who share that information. I’ve seen a similar knowledge in individuals who spend their whole lives in one place, growing up, raising a family, and accepting the changes of aging. Even if these individuals never write a word about what they’ve learned, their relationships and interactions with others show that their learning has been profound.
A writer needs to work hard to capture these multi-faceted characters. So many techniques, so little time. The generous sharing of authors at workshops and conferences convinces me I’ll never catch up with all I need to know.
Besides techniques, mystery writers might seek to understand serial killers, terrorists, hit men, and impulse killers. What about means, modes, and motivations? How does a corpse deteriorate over time? Now, I’m focusing on the police, their techniques and language. Every profession and trade has its own language. That’s certainly true of medicine and nursing. I believe a writer must capture the flavor of such language.
So much to learn and I despair of catching up. I have to set limits. The law doesn’t interest me. I enjoy books by John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline but I don’t want to spend time looking into the law. Bertrand Russell said that even if a person was an atheist, in the West that person would need to live in accordance with Judaic-Christian beliefs. Once individuals reach adulthood, I think they have a sixth sense about what’s illegal. Unless they intend to embark on a life of crime and, even then, their motivation could be defiance of what they know to be legal.
Writers might be drawn to history or cultures and ethnic groups different from their own. Learning a new culture enables a person to ask questions about her first culture. I spent my earliest years in the UK. Why did Queen Elizabeth I play off one suitor against another? She’s not around to ask but possibly her strategy didn’t stem from women’s liberation. By not choosing a husband from among the Spanish royal suitor, the French royal suitor, or powerful men at her court, she gained time for England to gather strength to defend itself against a Spanish or French invasion or against powerful home politicians who wanted to be king. It isn’t easy to develop a power base. It requires patience and self-sacrifice. Or her motivation could have been more personal. Her father beheaded her mother, and slashed and burned his way through six wives, not a happy model for marriage and motherhood.
When I lived in Boston, Massachusetts, I met people from a variety of backgrounds. I’m grateful to co-workers and neighbors who shared their goals and memories with me. Recent wars have focused attention on non-western cultures. Contrasts and similarities to our own might increase our understanding of American history and of why people in America today do what they do.
So much to learn, so little time. I need to focus on writing techniques and the language of law enforcement. Tomorrow, I might want to follow the life of a mill worker or a farmer.
Where has your writing taken you, to what place and time?