If You're Hot and Bothered by the Story, Write It.
October 22, 2012
Guest Blogger Maria Granovsky uses her background as a cancer biologist and lawyer, and her international travels, to craft fast-paced, intricately plotted capers, where the protagonists rely on their wits rather than their brawn, and the body count rises only as much as is necessary. Maria’s writing is influenced by her life-long passion for observing and understanding human behavior, and provides a window into the worlds of scientists, attorneys, and financiers, the passions and fears that motivate them, and the unintended consequences of untempered competition.
She currently lives in New York City, but has lived in many other places, from the exotic (Wilmington, Delaware), to the normal (St. Petersburg, Jerusalem), to the entertaining (Florence — in a convent). While it’s difficult to be the new kid on the block repeatedly, this nomadic existence – in terms of geography and career – continues to yield a rich vein of thriller plots.
As writers, present or future, we’re taught to write what we know. In my first novel, a legal caper titled POISON PILL, I hew close to this advice. I’m a patent litigator and a former research biologist, so it made sense to center my plot on the intrigue surrounding the discovery and testing of a drug to treat obesity.
But in writing this novel I stumbled on another, greater law of writing. Write about the stuff that doesn’t let you sleep at night. The writing (or more accurately, the rewriting and editing) process is arduous enough and can seem low-reward enough that if you’re not interested in your subject, you won’t go the distance.
The drug discovery and testing in my novel is but an instrument to explore the themes that hold me in deep thrall: the evil that seemingly decent people perpetrate by wilfully ignoring the obvious consequences of their actions to avoid prickling their conscience. Or because telling the truth is too difficult. Or because the profit motive has invaded areas of our society that perhaps should be exempt from it.
In fact, the first draft of the novel had nothing to do with pharmaceuticals. It was a story about a hedge fund algorithm, yet the central arc of the story was the same. I chose to swap out the hedge fund details for the pharmaceutical details because I wanted to make it easier on myself – I was switching to driving an automatic instead of a stick shift while learning to navigate the wholly new terrain of fiction writing.
However, while swapping out the mechanical aspects of the novel to those solidly in my bailiwick made life easier, it still didn’t exempt me from research. For example, part of the plot hinges on corporate law, an area I’m not familiar with. So I sought the advice of experts in the field, peppered them with questions, and learned something new in the process. I also found that the phrase “I’m writing a novel” has an almost magical effect – I have yet to meet a person who’d refuse to either provide me with information or with an introduction to someone who can satisfy my queries once I invoked this special incantation. To me, research has become a surprisingly social, and perhaps the funnest part of noveling.
So in a nutshell, this is what I now know about writing: write about the things you’re hot and bothered about. You can always do research and find answers. You cannot manufacture passion that isn’t there.