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Does research help you imagine a plot? (1 Viewer)

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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Does research usually uncover new possibilities for plot for you? So I have been reading an essay on the problems of parenting. It's been an eye-opener for me that so much is spot on (not a parent as of yet). I remember luckyscars saying life is conflict. So I took that in mind and was able to spot problem areas mirrored by the online magazine article author's experiences in real life. So much I will do much more research to determine what direction the story takes. So can magazine and newspaper articles inform us of what we haven't experienced? That what those people experienced poses as threats or problems in modern society? We can lie about life and thus imo make a good story out of it. But there are many sources of life besides newspapers. There are poems. A google search can find many things about the theme or topic or life experience we talk about. I suppose this is a good way to apply non-fiction to a fictional work, which is supposedly one of the tenements or beliefs (I will say) of creative writing. There's no dearth of articles on real life. I regret not reading random articles. But I am interested in such articles of the troubles of parenting and that is what I am researching. One of conflicts many definitions is that it is a problem. By reading non-fiction articles you can find many potential problems of real life that will enable you to write fiction. Real life after all is where a lot of conflicts present in stories come from. When we imagine or shape the material we become the artist. One approach I am taking is to outline the articles in terms of problems presented. It's a small summary of the problems only. It ignores the rest of what the article consists of. Real life is good inspiration. So much other people's problems become fiction. Do you have any disagreements or agreements with anything in this post? Any advice, experience, suggestions you want to share?
 
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Darkkin

WF Veterans
I have a decent idea for an unexpected villain from nonfiction reading I've been doing on pet subjects. (Psychology and Literary Archetypes e.g. Hero's journey.) Not wanting to overthink it, I will need to run a cold open and see where it goes from there. Usually it is a reverse situation for me. I get ideas from really small, nearly invisible details I encounter over the course of the day and run with the hare. e.g. Starfish in a Bathtub, which I did for NaPoem. How many people look at their showerhead and say: You know that would make a really cool poem.

Standard procedure is research when my plot mandates the details of Topic X, Topic X research rarely spawns Idea Q. It depends almost entirely on which parts of my brain are being actively engaged and the stimuli being received. Having a neurodivergent brain, I make leaps and connections when I am not in factual focus. e.g. in the tub, walking the dog, alphabetizing books, doing dishes. Music and repeative motions I know by rote trigger an almost zen like fluidity of thought. Things that have no business making sense, suddenly work because fact check is not running to deer check a wild hare idea.

My facts and research I retain and plug in when I need it. Critquing on the other hand can be a Pandora's box for me. Critical thinking engaged in a hyperfocus interest is always a prime trigger for me. Weird yes, but I work with what I have.
 
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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic which has to do non-fiction. I am reading on the collapse of parenting or what could go wrong.
Whether someone should write it right away could good point to discuss: whether we should outline what ideas we get and plunge directly into writing the story. I am taking a more cautious approach. I confess I am excited with starting. But I feel like I should wait a bit more. There is supposedly pansters and plotters. This is making me seem like a plotter. But the topic is alien to me to the point I am researching to discover the experiences these people have. What do they have to offer to me as a writer that could be used to begin a story. I sometimes can overthink things. I pretty much think there is more than one approach to writing.
There are so many articles on parenting that it even tells me what parents tend to do wrong. Which is all fun as a possibility for a story. To me, it doesn't seem taboo to plan a story by writing a small outline of the ideas and see what happens as you write down the story. As long as we show the trouble of a real life experience. I think real life experiences are something Aristotle even wanted writers to write about as a point in the poetics. Sure it has been interpreted in multiple ways.

Here's part of the article that shows the problems or conflicts in parenting which can be found on a web search:
Instead of providing the structure, balance, accountability, and authoritative discipline that children and adolescents so desperately need, American parents have become obsessed with being their kid’s friend, with keeping their kid happy, and pushing their kid to achieve specific, often narrow goals.

Children and adolescents no longer form primary attachments to their parents, which is absolutely crucial, but instead bond with same-age peers. This is problematic because peer relationships are conditional, built on immature assessments of what’s considered cool, frequent disrespect toward adults, and a lack of wisdom about the world. Children need adults to ‘enculturate’ them properly in the way of living, and they cannot learn that from peers.

Sax explains that the symptoms of true ADHD mimic those of sleep deprivation perfectly, which is another huge problem in American society. Children do not sleep enough because they are over-scheduled and allowed to spend far too much time in front of screens, often late at night alone in their bedrooms.
Problems:
Depiction of a stereotypical teen.
Problems of both parents and child. This is pure conflict.
Sleep deprivation. The goal of pleasing the adult and child.
Parenting that tells us they are in danger of rearing their kids the wrong way.
Overconfidence and failing college.
Inflated egos that tell us that we will do good when at school.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
The first “R” has already been explained and discussed: the “immersion” or “real life” aspect of the writing experience. As a writing teacher, I design assignments that have a real-life aspect: I force my students out into their communities for an hour, a day, or even a week so that they see and understand that the foundation of good writing emerges from personal experience. Some writers (and students) may utilize their own personal experience rather than immersing themselves in the experiences of others. In a recent introductory class I taught, one young man working his way through school as a sales person wrote about selling shoes, while another student, who served as a volunteer in a hospice, captured a dramatic moment of death, grief and family relief. I’ve sent my students to police stations, bagel shops, golf courses; together, my classes have gone on excursions and participated in public service projects – all in an attempt to experience or re-create from personal experience real life.
Besides the above, I wanted to share this too. This is what I am referring to. The real experience of other people makes us more creative. Sure this is Lee Gutkind we are referring too, and he is considered an authority in nonfiction. However, non-fiction can inspire fiction. We are informed by real life about other people's troubles. Writing about the personal experiences we have had only is a big mistake for a writer to commit. I am willing to explore whether this is a logical fallacy. If we write about our personal problems we fail to be inspired I will maintain.

(I haven't read it all but I have heard that creative writing has the 5r's) What these 5 r's are is something I have yet to read. Lee gutkind has writing guides on nonfiction since he teaches the craft as a professor. I consider that he has some valuable advice to offer to writers who want to improve on their craft.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
The novel I recently finished has a lot of plot elements I got out of my research, but not the main plot. more along the idea of a few characters and how they might fit into the story and interrelate with my protagonists. The story is about Olympian gods and demons, and they all came out of research ... none are my inventions. I needed some characters who might cross over to the other side, and one in particular I picked wound up becoming a major character once introduced, and that wasn't in my initial plan for a crossover character.

I also had a section in a Brazilian city. I did a lot of research on the city, including considerable time studying it with Google Maps. Things I spotted on the map and read about the city heavily influenced how I plotted that section of the novel.

On my upcoming WIP, the research I've done over the last year has already heavily influenced, but in an unusual way. I'm developing a card based game which simulates writing novels, and in the course of that I came up with a list of 103 archetypes. So when I started to contemplate this mystery, I used my archetypes list to (somewhat) randomly generate 20 archetypes for an element connected to the MC, and 23 more for characters in the murder mystery, to include victims, murderers, allies of the MC, suspects, witnesses, and others in danger. The archetypes I wound up with for the characters have absolutely determined the course of my murder(s) plot. The other archetypes connected to the MC will also be very influential, but I haven't pegged those roles yet.
 
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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
That is interesting. You did a lot of research. 103 archetypes consists of a lot of characters. I think you researched mythologies of Greece. The archetypes you researched are based on myth. Myth is related to stories since according to Joseph Campbell all ancient stories are based on myth. I can now definitely understand somewhat even if vaguely how many novelists do a lot of research and that may indirectly influence some aspects of the plot.

I do have some ideas jotted down for how my characters will behave, and it is all because of my results of looking for real life cases which some sound as if they are kernels for bigger stories or anecdotes. I know I'll eventually imagine a bigger story that was in the original anecdote.

We should begin with a conflict somewhere (some say real life conflicts could be the basis). I know characters make stories more memorable. That's one thing I am exploring somewhat if I can find anything to based of a real person. For many people since this is what made past stories great it also is the most difficult part. Not everyone can write a very interesting character. I know that definition is very subjective of what an interesting character is. I will assume this part is something that may or may not come from research sometimes. In your case it sounds like it helped you to research the archetypes which are characters from mythology.

I appreciated your post. Any novelists want to share their experience regarding research and how it helped them?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Absolutely yes! I always say writing is like air to me. And research is like food...it nourishes the mind to be creative.

My main go-to for research is the multitude of non-fiction books on various historical events, periods, and people. I used to be addicted to biographies. I'd read anything from past presidents to 'Real Housewives'. I was actually inspired to write fiction after reading a random biography that I picked up free on Book Bub. Diane Burke's, One Perfect Day. Theglasshouse you would love this biography, and it's very much about motherhood, so it might be relevant to your research. It also covers how she came to be an author. Highly recommend it!

The other place I go for research is professional websites, such as government agencies, societies, and organizations with a purpose, such as the SEC. There I find biographies of people who are on the board or involved in some way. Typically it gives their background, achievements, where they grew up, where they worked and went to school...etc. It's a gold mine for interesting and life-like character profiles.

I will even admit to reading trashy magazines for inspiration. I don't mean classy ones like People Magazine, I mean the real trashy ones you pick up at the check-out stand...lol! They seem to feed off conflict and adversity. I guess it would be like my junk food, but still stimulating to the creative mindset needed for original character development.

My current novel (still in WIP...yes I'm getting there...) Is based on a true event and there are many books and articles about it. Many of the characters have been inspired by real people involved in the event or industry. But I change them up enough that they can't be seen as actual. For example, a male character is based on a real-life female or a lawyer is based on someone who was an accountant.

The only downside to research is sometimes I get carried away with it and forget about writing...
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
Personally, research helps me to refine a plot and or arc that I already have in my head and are in the process of defining
as such. Examples would be detail about a particular place (setting), weather terms, or any flora and fauna that are present
in the story that I wouldn't already know much about. Things like that.

-JJB
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Absolutely yes! I always say writing is like air to me. And research is like food...it nourishes the mind to be creative.

My main go-to for research is the multitude of non-fiction books on various historical events, periods, and people. I used to be addicted to biographies. I'd read anything from past presidents to 'Real Housewives'. I was actually inspired to write fiction after reading a random biography that I picked up free on Book Bub. Diane Burke's, One Perfect Day. Theglasshouse you would love this biography, and it's very much about motherhood, so it might be relevant to your research. It also covers how she came to be an author. Highly recommend it!

The other place I go for research is professional websites, such as government agencies, societies, and organizations with a purpose, such as the SEC. There I find biographies of people who are on the board or involved in some way. Typically it gives their background, achievements, where they grew up, where they worked and went to school...etc. It's a gold mine for interesting and life-like character profiles.

I will even admit to reading trashy magazines for inspiration. I don't mean classy ones like People Magazine, I mean the real trashy ones you pick up at the check-out stand...lol! They seem to feed off conflict and adversity. I guess it would be like my junk food, but still stimulating to the creative mindset needed for original character development.

My current novel (still in WIP...yes I'm getting there...) Is based on a true event and there are many books and articles about it. Many of the characters have been inspired by real people involved in the event or industry. But I change them up enough that they can't be seen as actual. For example, a male character is based on a real-life female or a lawyer is based on someone who was an accountant.

The only downside to research is sometimes I get carried away with it and forget about writing.
I am currently reading anything I can find that is considered non-fiction from some articles on the web (with conflict or any sort of adversity taken from real life). There seems to be an overabundance of material on the internet. I am reading articles on parenting in particular. If I like that book you mentioned on motherhood I will check book bub's website and pick up that book from there. I am looking for nonfiction material that has conflict. Thanks for recommending it to me. I had a feeling you did a lot of research for your novel because of the writing discussions. This further confirms to me that reading anything is important. Interesting to see how people approach writing in different ways and how they research some ideas or how they add conflict to their stories. Today I did read a non-fiction article on Summerhill. It is helping me get inspired in order to write a short story. I was previously stuck, but now I am getting ideas from research. It did feed my subconscious as I wrote the story's next section.
Personally, research helps me to refine a plot and or arc that I already have in my head and are in the process of defining
as such. Examples would be detail about a particular place (setting), weather terms, or any flora and fauna that are present
in the story that I wouldn't already know much about. Things like that.

-JJB
Thanks for sharing your viewpoint on this. Yes, besides that I was thinking I use non-fiction in a way Taylor mentions. I will eventually read up on the web what is considered a good way to read fiction to take some inspiration from the works I have read.
 

PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
So can magazine and newspaper articles inform us of what we haven't experienced? That what those people experienced poses as threats or problems in modern society?

It depends on the person writing the article and their 'slant' and perspective. Circling back to parenting if you posed the same10 questions re parenting with 20 women from different demographics I bet you will get very different replies.

Parenting has changed so much over the last 40 years and even more so since the explosion of the internet and worse since social media... the world and his wife are now experts. Modern parenting methods now are SO different to when I was raising children because life was more straight forward then. So if you apply modern-day expectations/theories/standards to a story set pre-millennium etc. it will probably be inaccurate.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I am very interested in what is considered good parenting, and what sort of problems parents face. I am writing a very fictional world. The government is very fictional. I was hoping to make it a borderline science fiction story or fantasy story or magical realism (no technology or magic if not needed, but I might need a genre). So far the comments have been positive. I don't want to spoil the most important parts of the story, but part of it was work shopped here.

Part of it received comments in the workshop of the forum. I know there is a lot of bad advice out there from parents, and you have reminded me that there are people who are not experts. So I will try to relate on the advice as a son to mother and father perspective.

I appreciate what you are saying Pip. For example, I think we can relate on accountability and responsibility is something all parents want. I looked for examples. I can relate to this one. We need to keep our room clean. In my story the roles are reversed. The parent and child roles are reversed (the world has suffered a lot of damage and so children make the governmental decisions in schools inside the story. That is schools are the government of the world. Colleges, middle schools, and high schools make the important choices to govern the country. That is young people that are smart enough to make decisions while in school. This is very fictional. I am trying to explore the theme that childhood has less greed than adulthood. That they can make important decisions in some areas of government policy.). I won't elaborate how this works, but that is the idea. I have even looked at it in google at how parents treat adult children as children. (this is the world building of this world)

Likewise, I don't think I will find exactly what I am looking for since the premise is adults live inside a children's world. However, adults are children too or were in their former lives. I am reading everything I can find. The closest I will get to the idea might be: old adults parents are at an old age and need to be taken by their older children in their thirties and forties. This research can lead me to know if I am missing any unique angles in the story world. (so youngsters who go to special schools can vote. So much it has led to representation in the government. It's a parody of our world governed by adults in that young people have a say. High school does teach government in the United States. Congressional hearings in the United States has people learn more about what experts have to say on the topic). This is very young adult I admit and that is the sub-genre I want to write for this time.

Many parents deal with a child who talks back, curses, procrastinates or refuses to do what they are asked to do. Often times, the parents are overwhelmed knowing that their child’s behavior must change, but are too tired and unsure of how to make that happen. This typically results as inaction by the parent, and provides an environment where the bad behavior festers and grows
The example has to do with not setting specific times or days to do things. I used to do this a lot when I was a kid. On weekends if we picked up the garbage they would order a pizza. I am looking for the good and bad spectrum of parenting. But sometimes I confess I cheated and followed my cousin's directions and tucked everything that was a mess under the bed.

My research has only just begun. Sleep deprivation I like as a potential conflict. I'll have to research that more in depth. But there's a lot more to this. I don't know what will make it into the story. I believe what I am writing is escapist fiction since there is no interest in doing this yet.



Instead of providing the structure, balance, accountability, and authoritative discipline that children and adolescents so desperately need, American parents have become obsessed with being their kid’s friend, with keeping their kid happy, and pushing their kid to achieve specific, often narrow goals.
I need to research this more in depth. I need examples and not definitions. I think it will help me to understand the psychological side of parenting to make this story more credible.


The parent and son relationship I want to get right.
 
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PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
Yes, some children do take on the role of parent. I know as I've aged and my son has children of his own, he gives me advice on everything from parenting to politics. I don't argue I am too weary as I think back to all the advice my parents gave me and I ignored. Now we are seeing more and more examples of the 'sandwich' generation.

How a story would evolve where the children take control is interesting and reminds me of the activist Greta Thunberg lecturing world leaders on pollution

While they applauded it felt like they were just humouring her.
How the children gain control will be an interesting twist. Parents are at their most vulnerable when they become infirm in mind and body. So I suppose all the children born between x-y would need to be removed from the equation so you have the young and then very old. Interesting ...
 
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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Thank you Pip for showing me that. Child activism is one interesting topic I can explore as a writer. It's a brilliant suggestion I will most certainly look up at some point today.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
There are some subjects that IMO no amount of research would let me write convincingly about; domestic violence for example. In that case I would need to interview a real survivor and ask them to beta read my work. It’s just too sensitive of a subject for me to attempt alone out of fear of getting it wrong.

On the other hand, I’m interested in a lot of things. Occasionally, I’ll read something and a storyline will pop into my head. When that happens I’ll do more research to fill in the gaps, then go for it.
 
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