Monday, March 3, 2014

Research: The Gateway to Creative Writing

"Need more input, Stephanie!"
Lately, I've been really wanting to write an analysis or research paper of some sort. And I'm not sure why. Most students flinch when told they have to do a research paper and yet I often feel a weird sort of...glee.

I like learning. I like looking up stuff. One of my favorite activities is looking up something random on Wikipedia and then clicking on links within the page, seeing where I end up. 

(I also enjoy making typos whilst texting and then researching the words that aren't autocorrected. I recently just learned about rhenium the other day thanks to this method.)

This desire to just know random things comes in handy, especially in creative writing because, believe it or not, I'd say that about fifty percent--if not more--of creative writing is research.

It's True

I know, shocker, right? 

But really, think about it:  if you're going to write about basically anything, you have to know something about it first. If you're writing a war novel or maybe a satricial piece about the moon landing, you're going to have to do a little research first so you know what you're talking about.

For example, I'm currently working on a farcical screenplay for my advanced screenwriting class about Victorian societal standards and etiquette.

In order to make this piece effective, funny, and accurate I've had to do a LOT of research into what was expected of men and women during the later 1880s. I needed to know the rules so that I could break them.

Not only is my screenplay going to turn out a lot better, it will seem authentic. It's so easy to see when someone is faking their way through anything, whether it be a speech, paper, or story. If you want people to take you seriously, even if the piece is comical, you have to prove that you know what you're doing.

Research Methods

I think what really freaks people out about researching is that it seems like such an intense, time consuming endeavor. It doesn't have to be that way, though! It can actually even be fun. 

Here are some ways I like to research or start the researching process:

1. Go to a public place and just eavesdrop. If someone says something I don't understand or have knowledge of, I Google it!

2. Go to the library and just start looking around. I always stumble upon something that I don't know about. I check out a couple books on the subject and start reading and learning!

3. Just Google/Wikipedia something. Anything. I'm always amazed at what I end up learning.

The best thing is that you can learn interesting things that might seem like "useless" information, but you never know when that Wikipedia page about lenticular clouds might come in handy. 

Everything is material. Everything.

Don't Just Listen to Me...

Below are links to blogs and/or articles that discuss researching for creative writing. 

Cathy Day, my literary citizenship professor, is currently working on a novel about Cole Porter's wife, Linda. She talked to us about her work with researching the novel back in the Novel Writing course I took last semester with her. In her blog post, found here, she talks about how much research she had/has to do since she is dealing with non-fictional characters. 

And if writing about real people, like Teddy Roosevelt or Bach, is something you want to do, there's nothing stopping you. Research just becomes all the more important so that you can make the book accurate and credible.

Jean Wilson Murray discusses employing research as a means of procrastination in his writing process in this blog post. 

I'll be honest, I do the same. I'd much rather read up on my topic and do research than write at times, because it's easier. But "easier" is usually the path to be avoided if grand results are desired. But we're all human. Knowing this problem and admitting is the first step.

Research is important, just don't let it overshadow the reason you're researching:


Find your info and then pull out a new sheet of paper and put to good use the new knowledge you've acquired. 


I may just be weird, but this aspect of creative writing is probably one of my favorites. I love knowing that I'm going to be able to provide my readers with a well researched story, screenplay, etc. Sometimes it's difficult, but the reward of having a knowledgeable voice in your piece makes it so worth it.

Think about some of your favorite novels, TV series, or movies.

Those projects all take years to make because of all the extensive and in depth research that must be done.

How well do you think Breaking Bad would have turned out had creator Vince Gilligan not researched any of it?

It would have been cancelled faster than you can say "Walter White."

"Mr. White, what are we doing here again?"
"Research, Jesse. We're researching."

So, while it may get tedious at times, just remember that researching is a good thing. You'll better your project and yourself! 

What are some ways YOU like to research? Have any cool methods? Share with me! I'd love to be introduced to even more ways to glean more information.


  1. I love this post! There are some really great things I've learned through the processes you described. For instance, you might enjoy reading about le petomane or about psychomanteums (which kind of relates to your Victorian theme). Also, if you're still in the mood to write a research paper by the time scheduling for next year comes along, you might consider joining the Digital Literature Review.

  2. Yes, the DLR might be up your alley! I do a ton of research too. This is something I wrote about that, if you'd like to check it out!

  3. I really liked the authenticity part of the post. Knowing that you have done your best to give the audience your best writing is more rewarding than any monetary value that you can get from it (or maybe it's because I haven't made any money or writing before, but who knows).

  4. You're not the only one who enjoys researching-- yesterday I went down a tangential rabbit hole about what women in Ancient Greece wore. I'm not sure how this will help me with my writing, but I'm sure I can figure something out. Other than Digital Literature Review, Butler also has an undergraduate research conference that you might be interested in checking out. :D

  5. I actually just finished Breaking Bad, and I found myself wondering that same thing: how much did these people research into the meth industry? Ha, thankfully it seemed like a lot, or at least enough to convince me. This is something I've always been hesitant to pour too much time into for my stories, but also something I should be doing. Call me lazy.

  6. I think the eavesdropping cannot be underestimated. Sit in a booth in a bar with a book. People won't think you're listening.

  7. I have been taught to write what you know. If you know about making wine, then write about it. If you're a construction worker, then write about it. Life's experiences help in so many ways. I've been through so much in my time that it helps with dialogue and coming up with actions that i think no one else has thought of. Good article by the way or blog. Whatever you want to call it.