So you've got the most brilliant idea for a story. Yes! You know what your MC is like, what your LI looks like (yeeeesss!) and how it ends. Now to the hard part of outlining it. Yes, I outline books like a nutter, only because I have a tendency to go off-tangent when I write. Structure keeps me from following minor plot lines down rabbit holes.
But ah, here comes the hardest part. Let's say you're me (hi) and you're planning to write a book that involves a high stakes art heist. How on earth are you supposed to write about an art heist having never done one (at least I hope you haven't)?
At the very least, you want to be versed in the language enough that making your characters move in that world makes perfect sense to your reader. The best thing you can do is to do your research! Readers can tell when you don't really know what you're talking about, and glaring errors can sometimes make you stop reading completely.
1. Seek professional help
Personally, I like asking people for advice when I feel like I'm about to write something beyond me. One of the best things about being a part of a community of writers is that you can ask each other for help (and keep relatively sane) when you're writing. There was a week that I wanted to write a pseudo political-drama romance about Royals. I turned to the brilliant Suzette de Borja, author of the Entitled series, and she immediately gave a list of things she wanted to iron out before she actually wrote her story.
And just in case you wanted to write a royal romance, here it is:
- What kind of monarchy is it? Absolute or constitutional?
- What's the family tree? Knowing succession and who gets involved helps!
- How the family came into power, which you don't necessarily have to use but helps give depth
- Primogeniture: are women allowed to inherit the throne?
- Where is the kingdom? Fictional or real country?
- Customs and protocols, which separate the commoners from the royals. If you're doing a fictional place, it's easy to make up your own thing. Suzette says that the downside of using real countries is that research can become an endless rabbit hole, a thing of which I am guilty of when deciding to find out how the British call their nobles and titled people.
I also asked Mina Esguerra about the case for fictional countries, as at the time she was posting The Future Chosen on Radish (a political romance!). It makes things a lot easier of course, and gives you a lot more leeway to make your setting work for you.
2. Google it. Google it now.
When I write (and likely because I write books heavy on setting), I usually have two screens open. One with the story, and one with Google. I like Googling when writing, just because I like to double check little facts I write, make sure the words I think sound right are actually right, that sort of thing. Sometimes it's just to look up street names of places I write about.
For this story, a lot more pre-research needs to be done before I write anything. The heist alone is...huhuhu. But when I find one great resource, it helps me find out more about what I want.
The New York Times art section has a lot of great stories on world famous (still unsolved) thefts, like the Isabella Gardener Heist, and the only art related 'heist' in Philippine history that doesn't involve Philippine art. And I also found this awesome article that lists down the 'carte blanche' of museum security. The reading on the Internet can be endless and fascinating. Indulge when you haven't written anything yet, keep things to add depth. But not everything will go into your story.
3. Find your inspiration
Oh look, your excuse to binge watch or binge read. They say you can't write without reading about it first, I say the reading and watching just helps you write your story better. The idea for the Lady in Pink came along after I read an article about an old time capsule in Paris. Then I read Robin Oliviera's I Have Always Loved You, and the idea for the Lady in Pink was born. I then read books on the lives of French impressionists when I was writing the story, and it helped me immensely when I wrote about the paintings.
Reading other books that aren't necessarily non-fiction is a great resource for knowledge. When a character has a cool job (like scientists here, TV producer here, STEM scholarship grant-er(?) here!) it's a lot of fun.
For the art heist story, I have a list of things I need to watch before I continue with my outline. With a few suggestions from friends, my list includes (suggestions welcome!):
- BBC's Hustle - that Mondrian episode was simple, but so much fun.
- Thomas Crown Affair (rife with inaccuracies--research is important!)
- Entrapment (kinda meh)
- Ocean's Twelve (because Art Heist rather than cash heist)
- (at least the first part of) Wild Target, which stars most of my favorite British actors.
No idea what to read/watch? Go back to tip number one and ask for help!
4. Join the 'lectures'
One of the things we just started to do with #romanceclass is to set up 'lectures', where people in the jobs we want our characters to have talk about the jobs they have. They discuss their daily habits, the relationships they have with those people and the things they have to give up in order to do their jobs. The lectures are helpful and fun, and I just wanted an excuse to put this picture in another blog post.
Hola papi how may I help you?
5. Step back and write!
They say that inspiration comes from everywhere, and reading everything helps. But before I start writing, I take the time to step away from reading/watching, just so it doesn't bleed into my work. When you've done your research and your outline is complete, stop looking things up, reading or watching things related to your topic. For me, at least, tendency is that my work starts to sound too much like one thing, rather than MY story. That can be the hardest part, but trust me, you can do it!