Thinking Creatively About Research

For me, the concept of research has always been a scary one. As a fiction writer, I’ve always regarded the process as restrictive and dull. How can one be creative when they are forced to work within the boundaries that research creates? It wasn’t until I read the article “The Art of Creative Research,” by Philip Gerard that I realized research has always been an important part of my writing process.

Back in Core I, I began writing a multi-genre piece that has evolved into a full fledged novel. The story was historical fiction; a conspiracy theorists’ take of what really happened when President John. F Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. During the first draft of the story, I conducted little to no research; everything I knew about the assassination I learned in school. I was happy with the first draft, but now that I have expanded the idea into a novel, it’s clear to me that the first version I wrote was bare bones.

Research adds credibility and truth to a story. In expanding the short story into a novel, I unknowingly conducted what Gerard refers to as the three kinds of research: deliberate research directed at a particular project, deliberate research not directed towards a particular project, and accidental research.

In order for my story to have any hope of getting published, I needed to get the facts straight. Researching the life of Lee Harvey Oswald gave weight to his portrayal in my storyI understood, or at least tried to understand, what led him to shooting the president that autumn afternoon. I had no idea that doing this research would also flesh out the fictional characters. They became full fledged human beings living in the 60’s rather than shadows trying to look like they belong.

I also watched movies and read stories that helped shape the style of my storyI like to view this process as deliberate research not directed towards a certain project. Novels like Shutter Island might not have anything to do with the Kennedy assassination, but they provided me with the knowledge I needed to shape my novel

The accidental research of the novel came to me in the most tragic way. At the time I started writing my novelthere had been many shootings across the country. While I’ve, luckily, never been in such a terrible situation, watching the news gave me a sense of what happened. In the story, I did my best to portray the feelings experienced on both sides of the bullet. My novel would not be what it is today without research.

The other concept of Gerard’s I found illuminating was the seven archives. I had no idea people, memories, and even the imagination could be considered archives. It has changed my whole perception of research.

Blogging, as described in the J.W. Rettberg article “What is a Blog?”, is something I am very familiar with. My last internship required me to compose articles for a real estate website and its four blogs. I’ve tried keeping personal blogs, but I usually run out of enthusiasm after a few posts. Writing stories was more appealing to me than writing about writing stories. However, I know that in order to make it as an author today, it’s imperative that writer’s put themselves out there. I thought it was a surprising concept when Professor Wolff said that pen names no longer exists. I’ve always liked to hide behind my writing. Blogging will force me to be more social and interact with my audience. Though it’s intimidating, like research, I’ll warm up to it.

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2 thoughts on “Thinking Creatively About Research

  1. Brittany,
    I love your topic of research. I think that this will be a great topic to spend the next few months researching, especially since a lot of your life is tied to those shores. You do have a lot going on, maybe you could give me a few tips on time management. That is my biggest battle. Good luck with your research project, it sounds like it will be a lot of fun.

  2. After having read an early draft of The November Game, (which was very good) while in Core I, I’m excited that you have been able to expand on both the stories and the characters with your research. I look forward to being able to purchase a copy one day.
    Coming from someone who loves research I can understand a reluctance towards defining a fictional story too much by facts. But it sounds like your experience has been a positive one. I too found this article enlightening.

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