May 14, 2010

Using non-fiction to inspire fiction

Often when writers are encouraged to read more, it is often taken for granted that reading will most likely be fiction. Novels and short-stories are great to see what works both from a storytelling perspective and from a technical literary perspective, it is also useful to see what doesn't work either, but to write something original and interesting one needs inspiration. The phrase heard over and over again is "write what you know", but this limits us to write only about first hand experiences. Doing research in a topic you don't know about or even just dipping your toe in intellectually via reading non-fiction can open the doors to other areas to explore.

Currently I am doing a lot of background reading on Schizophrenia for the novel I am working on, and it's been highly inspiring. One of the issues I have is I don't want to trivialise the topic or write about clichés or misconceptions so research is a necessary evil (or good, depending on whether you enjoy it or not). It's been interesting for me to read about it because I have learned a lot, but also I've had to rethink certain aspects of the novel because certain things I wrote contradicted scientific and psychiatric evidence. Someone told me to go ahead and write without researching too much, but maybe it's my inner scientist in me that's screaming at me to work hard as possible. However the final yield of this research has helped me grow so much and has highlighted part of the problem I've had with the initial first draft and guided me in a direction that not only works from a plot engineering perspective but brings in some realism and credibility. Sometimes utter, unbridled freedom can make a writer spin and turn and realise that every direction in the desert looks the same, well for me anyway. Research gives me the boundaries and highlights a path to follow, marking areas for me with neon signs saying "this is off limits" because it is factually incorrect as well as opening doors also to areas that did not occur to me before.

Research doesn't have to be constricting either, I think aspects can influence ideas and facts for a work of fiction you can bend and distort, and while it may not work in reality or be scientifically correct, it could seem plausible because there is a factual basis for it. I read an interesting blog post which addresses this better than I possibly could: , even fantasy writers who don't necessarily need to do background research could benefit from some extra background reading.

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