They say the three ‘R’s of good writing are revision, revision, revision. While I agree with that to a large degree, and have practiced it faithfully, there are three other ‘R’s that are, at least to me, just as important. From the standpoint of writing, they are one of the things that I like the best, which is definitely reflected in the books I write.
One of my favorite things to do as a young person would be to curl up with a book on history or science and let it take me to new worlds and places. As much as I liked fiction, the thing that would always arouse my curiosity the most was learning about things that had actually happened that I knew nothing about.
My parents supported this thirst, or maybe had a lot to do with creating it, as we always had a lot of books around. I remember one of my favorite sets was Time Life Books, Life Science Library published in 1969. I still vividly recall some of the titles, The Body, The Cell, The Sea, Machines, Ecology, Space. Every page was full of new wonders that expanded my growing mind like a balloon.
The book titled Mathematics always seemed really boring to me, though. That is, until I picked it up in the summer following my freshman year in high school, after having sat spellbound through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on television. As I read through it then, I recall being filled with wonder as I learned about how mathematics can be used to describe alternate dimensions, time travel, topology, and all manner of things that can’t even be imagined by a creature bound to sensing and living in three dimensions. Not only did I learn a lot about mathematics, I also learned that mathematics was not what I thought – which goes to show you, context is everything.
National Geographic was another favorite of mine, taking me to the core of Earth, the edge of the Universe, inside the ancient Kingdom of Babylon, or to the top of an icy mountain. One picture I recall was of explorers entering one of the Great Pyramids as Giza. The chills went all the way to my toes! The places I have ‘been!’ The things I have ‘seen!’
It is this thrill that I most hope to capture when I write. The “Oh my gosh!” of reality. The things we don’t know. The truth’s yet undiscovered. The stuff I write is called fiction, but the fictional settings are just ways to reveal the little known gems of our world to an audience that perhaps doesn’t crave research the way that I do. And a lot of this stuff is important.
Take The Silla Project, for example. I spent six years studying North Korea because what is happening there is too important for people to not know about: the world’s greatest hostage crisis mixed in with crazy people trying to build nuclear weapons. It truly is unbelievable how strange that place is. Every single person who has read The Silla Project who I have spoken to says it has fundamentally altered their view of North Korea and most of them thank me for it. Now just to get that international award…
For my second book, The Green Hajj, (unpublished) I researched Antarctica for a year and a half before writing it. Why? For one, it is a fascinating place that’s just too cool to not share. And two, it lies at the center of the world’s greatest controversy – Global Warming… or not. I hope to have time to finish it one day.
Multiplayer was no different, requiring research into social media, virtual reality, and surprisingly enough, Alanya, Turkey. My work-in-progress continues this theme in an entirely different way – in fact in an entirely different place and time – that required yet more research of exotic, little known, places and cultures. Thank God for the internet and Google Earth.
So, the three other ‘R’s of writing? You’ve no doubt guessed them by now, research, research, research. It is what allows the writer to create a real place in the mind of the reader. Until the author is completely comfortable with his subject it will not come across as genuine. The only way to do this: research!
Today’s Writing Prompt: In the course of my research for The Silla Project I came across many, many wonderful tidbits that could be the basis for entire new novels. Here is one: One of the first Christian Missions to Korea was beset upon by indigenous people who thought they were being invaded. One of the missionaries was beheaded as he struggled to shore. His killer took the Bible he’d been carrying and used it’s pages to paper over the walls in his house. In time, he read them, was convicted by their message, and turned to God. Today South Korea is the most heavily Christian nations on Earth, in part due to this true story. Do a little research, find the story, and write a short synopsis for a novel that somehow connects to this story.
John C. Brewer is a novelist, physicist, rocket scientist, lifelong soccer player, motorcycle rider, husband, father, and the author of Multiplayer, an adventure for young adults, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. Find out more about what he is doing at johncbrewer.com.