“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Friday, September 7, 2012

Research and the Summer of Freaking Out My Family

When I first sat down to write Liz's story, for a little while I didn't have too much trouble when it came to knowing the general structure and behavior of cults.  I had read novels centered around cults before, and from that had developed a marginal, general interest in them.  So while that marginal, general interest was developing, I would sometimes stumble upon an article about a cult, or some factoid, or a Wikipedia article, and all of that marginal, general knowledge just kind of got stored in the back of my mind and is what fed the first few chapters of the first draft.

I then hit a point in the first draft where, even though I'd actually outlined pretty much the entire story (which I needed to do, because of needing two timelines), I couldn't move myself forward.  I struggled with the wall I had hit for a good few months, but for a long time I couldn't figure out what was causing my writers block.  I had the outline in front of me--I knew exactly where Liz was, where Liz needed to go, how Liz needed to get there, and what was going to happen to her in the end.  There was absolutely no excuse for me to be so stuck.

Magazine articles and photocopies that made up a bulk of my marginal, general knowledge.

Until I realized that what was holding me back was the fact that my marginal, general knowledge had run out.  It wasn't Liz's story I was struggling with--it was the cult's.  I didn't know how the cult should act from that point.  I didn't know why it had pulled its members in in the first place, or how.  I didn't know why people stayed.  I didn't know the full psychology behind cults, and because of that I didn't know exactly how Liz (or anyone else) should react in any situation.  I didn't know how the cult was going to maintain its hold over her and her sister.

Not long after I came to this realization (during spring quarter of my Junior year of college), it was time for summer break.  I had a particular problem, though, that ended up being a blessing for Liz's story--no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a summer job.  So while I continued putting in applications anywhere I could, to no avail, I decided that the least I could do was work on my novel, which I was planning on using as my senior capstone for my final year at Ohio Northern and would need to get a significant amount written once classes started up again.

Soooo many pages of handwritten notes.
There's a reason I had wrist problems after my summer of research.

One day, I decided to go to the library and see what I could find, book-wise, in terms of cult research.  Turns out there are a lot of people in the world just as fascinated in cults as I have become, because I found more books about cults than I knew what to do with.  I picked out a huge stack of books, found myself a rather uncomfortable chair, took out my notebook, and set about taking down notes. And then I did this at a second library.  By the end of the day, I had a pretty decent start on my notes, I'd checked out several books from the libraries, and thus started my summer of creeping out my family.

For the remainder of the holiday, I didn't go anywhere without at least one cult research book, my notebook, and my novel folder.  I would do my research anywhere--family gatherings, outside, in the house.  On more than one occasion, I got raised eyebrows when people asked me what I was doing and I answered with "researching cults."  The particularly awkward part was that, while my family had known I'd been working on a novel, up until I started researching I hadn't let them in on what the novel was about.  So not only was I weirding out my loved ones by reading books with phrases like "mind control" in the titles, but they also came to realize that I was no longer writing the light and fluffy stuff I'd done in middle and high schools.

My giant novel folder, containing both research and story information.

What I became particularly fascinated with was the psychology behind cults itself (but perhaps I'll talk about that in another post).  Over the course of that one summer, my knowledge and fascination went from marginal and general to being pretty well versed on cults and how they operate.  And, sure, it's not the lightest, fluffiest knowledge that someone can have, but I've still kept all of my notes from that summer (and proceeded to buy one of the books that I particularly enjoyed).  Perhaps I'll write about another cult someday.  Who knows?

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