Apr 13

L is for Learning curve

As writers we never stop learning (See H is for Help!) and as such we all have our very own learning curves for each new subject we tackle. Some of these curves may be steep, meaning we pick up new material quickly and with ease. Others may be flat; some subjects are tough going and we don’t always have the spare time to learn about particular fields of research.

But whether you’re a fast learner or a really, really, slow learner you will have to accept that there will always be limitations to the amount of information we can absorb and use. Of course I’m talking about writing research here, the things you feel you need to learn in order to improve your novel. You might want to delve into the murky underworld of organised crime, or learn all about firing guns, you might even want to know exactly what’s involved for the poor people who have to spend all day dressed up as Pluto and Mickey at Disneyworld theme parks. Whatever the subject the point of the exercise is the same – to add a touch of realism to your novel.

But I digress; the point of this post is learning curves. Just how quickly you will digest all the data you find is a personal topic. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mrs. Smarty McHugebrain; certain subjects may still be extremely taxing for your poor, oversized cerebral cortex. Imagine someone who was brought up at the finest private schools trying to research gangland culture in Compton, California. It’s not that they can’t do it, or that they aren’t smart enough to do it, the difficulty stems from the wild differences between their life and the life they are researching.

However, their learning curve could still either be steep or flat. It all depends on how far they delve into the research. They may pop onto Google, do a quick search for “gangs US what’s the shiz withCompton?” and Wikipedia will tell them the main gangs in that neighbourhood are the Bloods, the Crips, and Sureños. That could be it…job done. Just have the police officer protagonist of the novel mention those names when he’s having a rant about gangs in the neighbourhood and you’ve added a small touch of realism to your novel.

But what if you want to go deeper? Why only these three gangs? What’s their history? What’s a typical day like for gang members? The depth of research is unlimited; you could spend years looking into a certain subject making it the most realistic novel ever written.

Of course it’s up to you how complicated you make the learning process, just try and make sure your learning curve isn’t flat lining!

6 comments

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  1. Is there an ulterior motive to the learning curve picture? 😀

    A point you didn’t make is that the learning shouldn’t overtake the actual writing! I have an index card that when I come across something I need to learn or clarify, I note it down, and when I get chance I google (or e-mail my informant). I currently have a piece in my novel saying: LOOK AT MAP. PLOT ROUTE CAR TAKES. I have also made some assumptions to keep the flow going. So far, so good. And I am learning lots along the way, mostly that I can actually write crime fiction!

    My next learning curve will be a Buddhist Copper! Think it will add something unusual 🙂

    1. Why what’s wrong with my graph? 😛

      Yeah, I realised that as soon as I hit ‘post’ but I’m too lazy to go back and add it…have I done a post about being lazy yet? I’m too lazy to go back and check.

      I generally try and leave the more detailed research until after the first draft, the story is going to change either way so it doesn’t matter if I need to tweak things to fit with the more technical details of reality.

  2. Are you allowed to post rude drawings on a blog?

    1. My blog I can be as rude as I want 😛

  3. Learning curves better be steep if one wants to survive.

  4. Indeed, Steven–learning curves can’t be allowed to flatline. It’s amazing how easy it is to let it happen, especially as one becomes more successful. The only thing separating us from stagnation is a good challenge. Thanks for sharing!

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