Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cultivating Ideas Through Research

I won't be talking about the fact I finished my fifth draft of The Rose and the Crown today. I'll talk about that in a future blog.

Instead, I'm going to talk about the importance of writing research and reading. I have several stories that I'm working on in one phase or another. Regardless of what project I'm working on, I'm always looking for ideas that can help develop my stories. I look for ideas everywhere. I've had ideas for improving stories come while running, while on my morning commute, and even from conversations overheard at a doctor's office. However, the best ideas I've come up with have come from conducting research or reading lots of books.

To provide you with an example, I'm reading The Kalevala. The Kalevala is the national epic poet of Finland as collected and written down by Elias Lönnrot. I'm not very far into the epic and I've already gotten a few great ideas for my “paranormal romance” project.

The story I'm still peculating in my head will involve a great deal of the supernatural, including numerous animal mythologies, alchemy, and magical enchantments. I've done a lot of research so far towards this world, many pieces I may never use. However, last night while reading The Kalevala, I came across this gem:

Who then took a bough

took eternal happiness

and who then broke off the top

broke off eternal magic;

who cut off a leafy twig

he cut off eternal love.

A few lines later we also have this:

She saw a sliver floating

gathered it into her bag

in the bag carried it home

in the long-strapped to the yard

to make her witch's arrows

her weapon of enchantment.

Both passages are talking about the destruction of a particular oak tree. These two passages, each six lines in length, give me a few ideas to file away. I have a bough that grants happiness, a top of this tree that grants eternal magic, a twig that grants eternal love, and slivers that can be used as enchantments for arrows. This gives me for potential plot items I could bring into the story. I might use all of them, or none of them. What matters is that in my arsenal of ideas, I now have Arrows of Kalevala that could be fired at my protagonist.

Options are an important part of the writing process. You need to be able to look at your story and determine what works best for the situation. It might not be the oak tree, but the oak tree is there for consideration. It logically follows that you need to spend time reading and researching to give yourself more options. A few hours at your local library in the reference section can give you hundreds of new ideas. I've done this a dozen times, just flipping through, reading and learning the names and stories of mythological creatures I've never been able to find online.

I know I talk about cliches a lot, but I wanted to point this out. Proper research can give you a way to avoid commonly used cliches. If I wanted my protagonist to be magically forced into falling in love with the antagonist, I could use the common cliche of a love potion. Alternatively, because of my research, I can have my antagonist walk up to the protagonist and whack him in the head with an oak twig. It adds a bit of comedy and takes at least one cliche out of the story.

No, I will not be having my protagonist forced into love with anyone else. That was just a hypothetical. You'll have to wait and read to see what evil plans I have in store with him.

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