Friday, April 22, 2011

Research - Where Good Ideas Begin

An idea flashes before your eyes. It’s good, maybe great enough to ignite those creative juices. You begin to write, sense the mood, the tone of your author voice and the type of tale it will become. The genre you write has parameters or notable traits. As authors, we explore those qualities to bring characters, settings, even situations to life. One way a writer does this is through research. 

Classified a noun, research is more an action: methodical investigation into a subject in order to discover facts, to establish or revise a theory, or to develop a plan of action based on fact. It’s safe to say that no matter what you write, be it time-travel, mystery, historical, or paranormal, you simply hunker down and do some homework. If the plot hinges on a left-handed adversary, you’ll need to explore the distinct differences between him/her (in the case of paranormal or sci-fi – it) and a right-handed villain. 

I learned the value of thorough research the hard way. In fact, just the mere thought of scrutinizing information made me cringe. Sitting for a second masters, each course required weekly in-depth and lengthy journals, and the dreaded persuasive power point presentations. The culminating assignment was a thesis based on a relevant topic, which entailed extensive study and action research. Ah… There’s the "R" word that made me shake. But digging up information on my chosen topic held more than I expected. It took the paper in a slightly different direction. Digging even deeper into the importance of arts education in our schools, a secondary subject of teacher validation turned my thesis into an award winner. Solid research painted an indelible image of talented teachers put on a chopping block when school budgets get tight. Like a demon feeding off its prey, art and music were the first subjects sucked out of children’s lives. Looking back, this may be where the paranormal author in me emerged strong and feisty, enough to actually inspire me to sit down and write a book. And although my genre is paranormal, determination to flesh out facts before bending reality proves research a necessary ingredient in any form of storytelling. 
Let’s be honest. I know I’m not the only one who runs into the store for milk and comes home with two bags of extra items! Well, often in the midst of research, something other than the subject under scrutiny steals your interest. Maybe it’s related. Maybe not… Go with it. Follow the thought as if it were a psychic lead. It may help the plot race along or possibly enhance the drama. Facts lead to other facts. Some reshape a storyline; some add depth. And while the purist may procrastinate, the passionate author will welcome seemingly unrelated research to infuse the story with new possibilities. 

Here’s an example of how factual research created a ‘real feel’ in His Soul to Keep, Book Three of The Champion Chronicles (release date: 7/22/11). Michael, the main character, still fears the sire he single-handedly destroyed ten months earlier. Cyril, his sire, was a Slovakian who had escaped eternal oblivion for 800 years. Enter the importance of research to add a plot twist. I came across a set of thirteen murals by artist Alfonse Mucha entitled The Slav Epic. Immediately curious, I had to know more. 

Hmmm… Thirteen is the perfect paranormal number. Would the artwork fit the plot? And what did Mucha’s style look like? A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art had me fascinated with his use of vivid colors and hues in an unrelated painting. The World Wide Web allowed a virtual tour of The Slave Epic, a massive work permanently housed in a Czech museum. Each mural had a specific sentence to depict the scene. Would the captions work with my story line? Suddenly I felt that proverbial chill snake up my spine, tingle my brain. The captions for paintings XII and XIII would foreshadow major events. Something tangible, even visible to heighten my hero’s fear and add suspense. Mucha added a nice touch to the tale :)

Research takes time and a certain sense of stamina. But an afternoon at the old laptop can explore a lost civilization or allow you to view the sunset on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. A trip to the library could be the difference between brilliant and blasé. In world-building for fantasy-fiction, legends as well as scientific data may be ‘what-ifs’ that turn your novel into a terrific read. 

Another method of research is demonstration. Pause and step back. Not everything you discover will be suitable for your current WIP. Keep it on file for future reference. Yet be it Karate or Italian cuisine, find an expert to interview. Take a class or two for hands-on experience.

Within every writer, the seed of an idea sparks creativity. That idea may come in a dream, during a conversation, in a news article or tending a garden. However it happens, research roots the seed in believable fact – no matter what genre you write. A good idea leads many places. With a bit of research, a good idea can blossom into a gripping story. 

Once again, I have to apologize for being late. Happy Easter to all! ~ Mickey Flagg


  1. I live for research. IT's true. I love educational TV. If you don't want to have the internet suck every ounce of energy out of your brain, just check out the listings for the History Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, The Learning Channel, or the Travel Channel. Especially for the paranormal. A picture is worth a thousand words. Just think of how many you get in a "moving picture"... Awesome post, Mickey! And Happy Bunny Hopping!!! Remember, this weekend makes for culturally-accepted chocolate gorging. ;) ~The Research Junkie

  2. Skhye, I've read one of your books. You definitely research!
    And I agree. Easter chocolate is guilt free:)
    Thanks for sharing your research tools! ~ Mickey