Have you ever looked up a topic on the internet hoping to get sage advice about your subject, only to realize when you read that article it’s just an ad for a productivity app? Well, you’re in luck because if you clicked on this article hoping to get some sage advice, you might! Here’s a beginner’s guide to creative writing research. There is no app I’m trying to sell you. Aren’t you tired of being sold something on the internet anyway? You can’t even watch YouTube without someone pushing a sponsor on you.

What’s In It For You?

Nothing, sweet Susie. I’ve come down from the mountain to give you the secrets of creative writing research for free from the kindness of my own heart. Settle down. They aren’t secrets. So, therein lies the rub. This is my “lived experience,” as the kids say nowadays, so this may not apply to all of you. Research needed for a project from your imagination might only require enough to make things “feel” correct or provide order within your fiction. Still, when your project is based on or surrounds factual events, the accuracy of that information can be crucial. Suppose you want to write a novel about the founding fathers after the Revolutionary War. In that case, you will likely need to go further in your research to ensure the information you present in your project is true and accurate.

But my project is creative. Why do I need research?

Ah, the mating call of the idiot. A knee-jerk reaction to structure from the creative mind. Let’s bust through this myth like the Kool-Aid Man bringing you sugary, watery delight. Everyone who set out to do any creative project has done a modicum of research. Research comes in various types and fashions and can vary from project to project. Research is about infusing believability into your work. Believability comes in many forms.

On the one hand, research infuses your creative fiction works with believable actions, structures, and behaviors. On the other hand, if your subject is historical, it must represent the actual time and events surrounding your story to be believable. You can’t have George Washington driving a Dodge Charger on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, no matter what Dodge wants to tell you.

Research isn’t always some long, drawn-out process of rooting through information and sorting stacks of papers while you’re stuck in a library. Sometimes it is; you can get real Indiana Jones vibes doing that, but since you aren’t a boomer, you’re on the internet becoming inspired or informed, trying to find a direction for your creative project. Are you a poet? You’ve probably read up on how to format a poem. A Villanelle, for instance, has a very rigid structure. Understanding the mechanics of how that structure operates makes it a Villanelle. You may have read other poets and their Villanelles to get working examples. Robert Frost’s “Don’t Go Gently into That Good Night” is a Villanelle. Did you read it?

Congratulations, you’ve done research.

Ok, then, wise guy, how do I know what I need to Research?

I know that today, everyone claims to be a “visual learner.” You should have learned to draw anime girls rather than write that big novel. It would pay better anyway. But, listen, you’re not a “visual learner.” Your brain has been trained to eat dopamine like Pac-Man at a ghost convention. Your brain has suffered from being bombarded by visual information through movies, television, YouTube, and TikTok. You’ll need to step away from most of these things to become productive and finish that Twilight fan fiction you’ve been working on. But, for the purposes of this article, I assume you can read alone, in silence for ten to twenty minutes at a time, or this wall of text you’re reading will get really useless, really fast.

Your subject matter is going to determine a lot of what you are going to research. As I mentioned, if you’re a poet, you must know how to structure that poem. If you want to write a Shakespearean Sonnet about your cat, you’ll need to research how to format a Shakespearean sonnet and learn bout iambic pentameter. This is a great place to start.

But what if you want to write a novel about cats in space? This here is big decision makin’ time. What are the cats doing in space? Are they anthropomorphic cats? Do they have Jobs? Are they experiment subjects that got loose? Are they qualified pilots? Did the female cat have a rough childhood, and now she’s looking to show all those sorry milk-lapping fools back home what she’s truly made of? Is she lactose intolerant?

Every creative project has questions, and I trust you’re past this stage, but it’s worth discussing. There are about a tetragillion questions you need to ask yourself when developing any creative project. That’s why when you’re a writer, you’ll only be able to juice about ten good pages of work from your brain in a day. Those ten pages might take five hours, or they might take ten hours, but you will be exhausted in the end because every creative decision takes a sip from your brain’s mental energy reserve. So if you wrote five thousand words and worked out a plot hole, you made at least five thousand and one decisions that day.

“research infuses your creative fiction works with believable actions, structures, and behaviors”

Paul, Average Research Enjoyer

How do I incorporate sources into my writing?

This is where research can provide you a helping hand. I get caught up in the technical minutia of whatever project I’m writing. I can write character drama all day, but characters usually inhabit or interact with the world around them. If a character has to interact with someone from the world’s military, say. You can bet your bottom dollar I will spend the entire week working out every facet of this fictional military to determine the soldier’s rank. Does that seem excessive? Maybe, but along the research path, I figured out the soldier’s uniform, his unit, and who his commander is, and instead of being alone, he’s now with another soldier or even his squad.

Research allows me to build the world into something tangible. It informs my writing but doesn’t dominate it. I understand how and why the military operates, and so does my audience. The best fictions are those that feel familiar. That’s not to say you can’t have outlandish elements, but if you have a military in your project, it better think, act, and behave like a military. I won’t suffer any plot contrivances in your project! If the enemy in your project is this fictional military, it needs to be competent for me to take it seriously as a military. But your character needs to be more skilled and more capable as a result. The military shouldn’t be bungling around so our hero can escape. Your beliefs about runaway military budgets will go out the door when you watch a group of marines breach a building and deliver on all the training your tax dollars have been paying for. The same should apply to your world. So, use the information you garnered from your sources to inform these decisions.

How do I find sources for creative research?

Finding sources starts by looking at the questions you asked about your story earlier. Most ideas begin with a character, a plot, or a world. Sometimes, they are a combination of two of the three. If you lack a world for your character and plot to occupy, you should start researching that since you don’t have much information. World Building is where most research of your creative project will end up, but you might also examine the whys and hows of human behavior or the consequences of cat abuse.

Let’s use this military thing as an example. What kind of era does your world take place in? Mine takes place in an era akin to World War I, a turn of the 19th century-like era. In that case, I probably want to research World War I. But where do you get started? This might burn some buns, but why not start with the sum of all human knowledge on the internet, Wikipedia?

Wikipedia as a source, especially if your project is academic, can and will be problematic. Every goober who has ever wasted money in college will espouse the same opinions as their professors. “Wikipedia bad.” And they are correct; it can be. The problem is not Wikipedia; it’s humanity. For every altered Wikipedia article is an altered archaeological or environmental study.

People don’t like looking in mirrors, especially people in academia. Humans are sinners; we are flawed creatures. Plus, we’re lazy, and when Wikipedia provides so much luscious information, ripe on the vine, we can’t help but take what it says verbatim and feast on it. It’s written so matter-of-factly, right? It’s all… right here.

WRONG! Wake up! Keep reading!

How do I know a source is credible and appropriate for my creative writing project?

You have to use critical thinking. All of that video-induced dopamine makes that challenging; I get it. Our food is poisoned, our brain is filled with microplastics from bottled water, and that vaccine you took is likely making you sick rather than preventing sickness. We have a lot to worry about. But you can’t just accept that Hitler was the coolest guy at the party because some edge lord zoomer got a chance to edit the Wikipedia page.

Wikipedia is a good first rung on the ladder to understanding a subject. If we look at World War I, and no one gives a damn about World War I (this is a legitimate factor in determining the validity of Wikipedia entries), we can read up and familiarize ourselves with the topic first. We don’t take it as law or gospel because there is a risk of external forces, either edge lords or political partisans, altering information. Believe it or not, legitimate history is being changed daily by activists and non-governmental organizations. This makes every source on the internet a problem in reality. But, for this article’s purposes, Wikipedia provides a good starting point for understanding a topic. We know a bit about World War I as a result of reading the article, and in clicking about, we saw that the German Empire was involved, and their military looks like how I envision my military in my fantasy land.

Armed with your boilerplate World War I information, which makes you a snappy trivia dispenser, you can begin searching out information about the World War I German military. You can hop into good old Google (be careful they keep all your info) and search “German Military Uniforms of World War I.” I get tons of articles… I get highly “tailored” search results because the internet has become a cesspool of controlled information…

No, Google results were absolute trash. We’re going to DuckDuckGo.

I searched for German World War I uniforms and got actual results. From here, you can read up on various topics and begin to understand the information. You can search third-party websites that will bring you more detail or specific information about your topic. There are thousands about any topic, really. Probably more. You have to refine your search. There are infinite combinations. The more detailed a site, the more reliable it can be, but this is only sometimes true. But for creative topics, this information is good enough to start formulating and collating your ideas.

What if I want to go further, faster, and even more reliable?

Slow your roll, Jimmy. In my search, I spied an image of an Illustrated Encyclopedia of Uniforms of World War I. That’s everything I want and probably more! I take that over to Amazon and… twenty-six bucks! That might be a lot to you, it might not. You’re now at the most pivotal crossroads of all researchers. The dreaded expense! You can buy or not buy. If you buy the book, mission accomplished, but what if you don’t want to spend any more quite yet? What if the information is bare bones? You might still have groceries to buy this month, and you have to save your six billion space bucks to buy that dozen eggs.

Don’t fret; keep track of that book! Write down the title, the ISBN, and anything to uniquely identify that book. Do you notice something else on Amazon? Other books on your topic. I found many other written words in the results just by searching for this visual encyclopedia. The problem is they all cost money. Write down the titles of the books you like the look of or are more specific to your subject. Continue searching. Amazon is a search engine, too, not just a store. Use it. You don’t have to be a consoomer all the time. We’re looking to be producers.

This is where the rubber literally meets the road in research. This is where you chart a course to your local library. You can take those titles and head to your library. Get a free library card and start your hunt for those books.

Now, Amazon has hundreds of warehouses, each about the size of an aircraft carrier, so the book you want may not be at the local library, but it might. However, you’re going to make a new friend called the librarian. Once you get over your social anxiety, they will help you find all the books you could ever want on the subject you are interested in. They can search your local library branch, and most can search all the libraries within the county or city, depending on where you live. There are usually a handful. You will find more information on a topic than you thought possible. Particularly if you are searching for German World War I Military Uniforms.

If all else fails, go to Barnes and Noble and check out the section of books your topic is in. Barnes and Noble stores have seating all over. They are so hibbity dippity they probably won’t say anything if you sit there and read up on your subject. You should buy something to support them, so if you find the perfect book, buy it. Let’s get a coffee if not.

Do I need to credit my sources?

If you’ve attended college, and you have attended college, right? What will you even do with your life if you haven’t? Eww. You are concerned with credit, citations, and a bibliography. In the world of creative fiction writing, none of that really matters. But let’s say a source really helped you out. It inspired you, and that author’s work gave you all the groundwork to start building your world. You owe it to those few people to say something about that gift. This is where the author’s forward or introduction comes in. In these front matter sections, you can acknowledge valuable contributions to your work, giving everyone warm fuzzies at the end of the day.

I will add that if your work is heavily referencing multiple sources for factual historical accuracy, I would include footnotes and a bibliography in the back of the book to show people you did your due diligence and that the events, places, or historical persons referenced in the book did exist or happen in the manner in which you portray them. Without the works of those references, you wouldn’t be able to reach back and garner that knowledge. So, acknowledge those contributions.

This makes you a good person, too.

I see you’re running out of word count, boss.

Yeah, it’s about time to hit the old dusty trail. This article, of course, was an overview of research for creative writing. However, there are entire fields of study devoted to this topic. There are numerous websites and even books on creative writing research. I’m sure someone out there even has an app to sell you on it. I’ve scoured the web for five, maybe six minutes, and I’m delivering the best results I could muster:

Never mind, ninety percent of the search results are links to scholarly research articles from academic institutions that want to charge you for the trouble. Academia is a scam. Work in construction or teach yourself to draw those anime girls. You will make more money than getting that master’s degree in philosophy.

So, instead, here are some book recommendations:

creative writing research

Research For People Who Think They Would Rather Create

Check it out on Amazon!

Look at that “minimalist” cover! This is right up your autist alleyway. Visual learners, watch out! This is likely a good text bridging the gap between “it’s a creative work” and “let’s pour over the research” mentalities. This seems an excellent place for most people to learn why research is good for artistic endeavors.

creative writing research

The Art of Creative Research: A Field Guide for Writers

Check it out on Amazon!

This is an authoritative text on the subject. This will walk you through the entire process of the W5H on research in creative projects and is an excellent text to jump on after you come to terms with the why. This book has a lot of information and depth coming from the view of a professional, too, so for your average chud, this might be a bit much. Still, it helps you think of yourself as not a basement dweller but an amateur author.

Hey, Paul. Thanks.

No. You’re welcome.

I hope this gave you some good ground to understand why research is necessary and helped you understand the basics of getting started. I’m looking forward to seeing more realistic depictions of troubled space cats with plenty of lived experiences that seem true to life.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Mom, and God bless every one of you reading this.

One Comment

  1. Paul Pratt 13 February 2024 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    A reply to this test.

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