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With spring upon the calendar I find myself reflecting on my life and what led me to actually begin work on my lifetime dream of being a writer of fiction.  I find it interesting how many people don’t read fiction because they don’t consider it to be ‘serious’ writing.  Composing fiction, while an exercise in imagination and flights of fancy, requires a great deal of research and personal introspection.

Shadow Ballet, my first novel, is the first in a series of stories based where I grew up, and is a tribute to the department where my father served as a detective.  It is also a tribute to my second wife, a talented artist who lost her battle with cancer and an expression of my journey through the minefields of grief in search of life.  A fictional story based on the facts of a real life, real people, and real emotions.

In my various careers, where my abilities earned me the nickname ‘wordsmith’, I have written thousands of pages of non-fiction.  Carefully crafted to clearly and accurately express details, facts, circumstances, situations, and results, my words were used to win court cases, sell products and services, and as technical texts for others to follow.  Enjoyable as this might have been, it lacked the emotion, the psychology, the empathy, and satisfaction of drawing characters and characteristics from people I have known and placing them in situations to be resolved.

In the serious vein of putting words on a page in a fictional setting is not to sway, convince, or educate in a specific direction.  Fiction is about offering the reader the opportunity to experience emotions and spur the imagination into territory not previously visited, found only in the depths of the reader’s soul.

Research Realities in Writing

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So you want to write a novel. You dream of creating an exciting story that will grab the reader by the throat and keep them turning the pages to discover what’s coming next. Writing fiction involves a galaxy of choices. The big five in preparing to write the story is to determine who, what, when, where, and how. Once you make these choices, you then are faced with many more within each category. This is when you need to do some serious research.

How do you know what to research and what to use of what you learn and where to follow what you’ve learned? You discover more choices creating more choices followed by more choices. It’s important to know enough about your subject to be able to present it in an accurate fashion, but more important to know the truth in order to bend it to suit your story, paint it a different color, improve or degrade it, make it your own, but in a plausible fashion. When you create a fictional story you have the freedom to tinker with reality, make the mundane unique, the pretty beautiful, the good something ugly.

The best thing about research is you don’t have to use it this time, you can save it for your next book or the next one. What you learn looking into one subject is often the springboard for a totally different direction you hadn’t thought about, but one you now see with great clarity and know just how to use. Research and study is a constant practice for me, something I do every day. Every article I read, every TV show or movie I watch, every book I read offers me different perspectives, different ways to express myself, different levels of knowledge in fields about which I admit knowing only a little. I consider reading a broad spectrum of authors and subjects the most important thing any writer can do. Whatever you read is a serious effort to enlighten you. You just have to open your mind to the possibilities.

Speaking of reading, remember to read your own characters and pay attention to what they are telling you. I hear you. What are you going to learn from a character you invented out of your own imagination, right? Consider the fact that you invented the character with a number of important traits and when you wrote the character, you gave him or her a voice. Is the voice just nonsensical drivel or is something really important being conveyed? If it’s important, listen to it. If it’s drivel, you probably want to rethink your character and your presentation. You were listening to that voice in your mind when you put the words on the page, so pay attention to what your were saying. Make sure you say what you mean in your character’s voice. Your research will help you to know.

Writing a story should be a voyage of discovery for the author, a voyage shared with the reader. Each page is an opportunity to find a new idea, a new image, a new direction. The only limits on your voyage are those you place on yourself. Set your mind and soul free and discover entire galaxies of thought you never dreamed about.