Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Walter Mosley and the red question mark

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For the last word on research, I’ll turn things over to Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress, who isn’t necessarily known for his research skills—as he puts it, “I write books about places I’ve been and people I like to think I understand”—but who has, you’ll probably agree, done pretty well for himself. In This Year You Write Your Novel, Mosley says:

There will be moments when you will want to dally over details. Do Georgia geese fly south in April or June? Is it physically possible for Bob Millar to hear the cult leader yelling from a mile away—even in a desert? Would the police arrest Trip if the women were allowed into the bar and were served by the owner?

All of these questions are valid. Before the book gets into print, you should have the answers. But many writers allow questions like these to help them procrastinate. They tell themselves that they can’t go on until these questions are answered.

Nonsense. Put a red question mark next to the place where you have questions and get back to it later. [Italics mine.]

Don’t estimate the power of that red question mark—or of saving a problem for later. Once you’ve moved on, time has a funny way of resolving plot problems that seemed insurmountable. And like Napoleon, who always waited a week before responding to any letters, you may find that by the time you get around to the problem, it has already taken care of itself.

Written by nevalalee

February 4, 2011 at 8:15 am

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