So the last time I posted here at Tor.com, I wrote about my love of hands-on research. And while I considered writing about other parts of my writing process this time around, as it turns out, it’s not very interesting. Which is why I figured I’d write about research again.
In fact, my process can pretty much be summed up by saying that after creating a brief outline using both the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (found in his book, Save the Cat), and the concepts I learned in Robert McKee’s book, Story—I write, revise, write some more, revise some more—and basically continue with this routine until the deadline rolls around and it’s time to send the book to my editor.
That’s it. Simple. Utilitarian. Boring.
But research is different. Research is fun, and informative, and crucial to the story building, world building, and character building process. It’s also ongoing, as I was engaged in various forms of research throughout the entirety of The Immortals series, and each Riley Bloom book brings a new topic to delve into, most recently, ancient Rome and gladiators, which I write about in next spring’s release, Whisper.
For both series, my goal was to delve as deep into the supernatural world I was creating, without having to actually die to experience it like my characters did. So aside from plowing through a mountain of metaphysical books, taking a Psychic Development class with James Van Praagh (see my last post linked above), I also underwent several sessions of past-life regression hypnosis with bestselling author and pioneer in the subject, Dr. Brian Weiss, as well as a practitioner who is more local to me, Christina Gikas.
If you’ve never been hypnotized, then I’ll just say that it’s basically a state of extremely deep relaxation. You’re still aware of your surroundings, your personal code of ethics stay intact, but it’s like your conscious mind has decided to take a little vacation that allows your subconscious mind to take over.
The process was simple—once I was comfortable and situated, the therapist brought me into a very deep trance, and from there, led me back through time.
Like, way back.
Like all the way back to the angst of my teens, a pleasant childhood memory, all the way back to the womb (yes—weird!), and then back even further to the person I was before.
The first thing I was instructed to do once I’d arrived was gaze down at my shoes. Shoes tell a lot about a person—hinting at their sex, their economic status, their lifestyle, the time period they’re in, etc. Then she asked me to look around and describe my surroundings, to get a feel for my location. As soon as I’d reported on that, I was told to visit the most significant parts of that life—the scenes appearing less like a movie, and more like brief, sepia toned flashes, with emotions and overall impressions intact (though this was just my experience—I’m told everyone sees in different ways). Eventually, I was lead to my death, and then points beyond, where I was asked to glean what that particular life had meant—what it had taught me—and what I’d failed to learn.
While I won’t divulge the details, I will say that in all of my regressions (and I did several) never once did I see myself as Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, or Joan of Arc. I wasn’t even Julius Caesar. Instead, I saw lives of hardship and drudgery—some worse than others, some not so bad—though I’m definitely glad to have left them behind.
Though every time a session ended, I was plagued by doubt. I make up stuff for a living—writing for me often involves jotting down the movie I see in my head—so isn’t it possible I’d just done it again?
And yet, each session revealed something new—a life I would’ve never purposely chosen—a different lesson to be learned. Pieced together, there was no denying the progression in each successive unfolding. But still, to this day, I doubt.
Were my visions no more than a visit with the archetypal bits of my personality?
Were they the product of my own subconscious mind run amok?
Hard to say.
But whether or not I believe doesn’t matter, because those sessions allowed me to experience a place I wouldn’t have found on my own. Which in turn helped me to create my fictional worlds with an authority I wouldn’t have otherwise had. The images I saw ended up providing major fodder for the mystical dimensions in both of my series, and really, that’s what research is all about.
Hypnosis spiral image from Flickr user malavoda used by Creative Commons License
Alyson Noël is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Immortals and Riley Bloom series, as well as the upcoming Soul Seekers series, set to debut in May 2012.