Navigation menu

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday Speak Out!: Research is Fun

by Kilmeny MacMichael

Yesterday I did research for a story.

I don’t know which story yet.

I watched an episode of a TV show.

They say "write what you know."

If I wrote only what I knew from my personal, real-world experience, then I would only have a few stories to tell. I’ve had a mostly uneventful and unexciting life. This is great, except for when it comes to writing stories.

Bits of personal experience do filter into many of my stories. But few of my plots are based only on my experiences. Perhaps with time, I will become more capable and better able to express “what I personally know” in a way that is interesting. Until then, I have to use the imagination crutches.

I read. Mostly fiction, some non-fiction. I watch Hollywood movies. I watch movies with subtitles. I watch TV. For years I’ve listened to old time radio dramas. I’ve begun to explore podcasted fiction. There are so many stories out there to be read, heard, and watched.

Every time I watch, listen or read someone else’s storytelling, I am doing “research” for my own storytelling. I am, consciously or otherwise, learning how to tell stories better. I am absorbing the world and characters on the page or screen or spoken into my ear.

When it comes time for me to write, I don’t only have my own dull experiences to draw upon. I have all the experiences, real and imagined, that I have read, watched and heard. I have the creativity and experiences of hundreds of authors and scriptwriters and performers to pull from. I use my memories of other people’s stories as my writing crutches.

The last story I wrote was a spaceship-bound dream-tale. I called upon my memories of pirate and spaceship films, Poe and a podcasted lecture from Stephen Hawking to weave together the tale.

Is it a great tale? No. But it did amuse a couple of members of my local writing group, and writing it amused me. Maybe I'll find an online home for it. I'm still learning. And researching.

Some writers can be snobbish. We don’t generally like to admit that we watch television, and the occasional blockbuster flick. Put too much garbage into your brain, it’s only going to spit garbage out. But not all television and film and radio and podcasting is garbage. Some is as great, in its way, as canon literature. If we don't watch or listen to these stories we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from some of the best storytellers of the last century and today.

So, go on, take a night off from reading that acclaimed door-stopper of a novel. Watch an episode of a TV show, or download an episode from a podcast or radio drama you've never tried before. You will probably learn something. You will get ideas. You will be doing research. And, hopefully, you'll enjoy yourself at the same time. “Research” is not all work and no play!

* * *
Kilmeny MacMichael grew up in the prairie city of Winnipeg and now lives in western Canada's mild Okanagan Valley. There she writes flash and short stories and rolls her eyes at people wearing scarves when it's only a few degrees below freezing. Some of her stories have seen online publication, including with The Ilanot Review and Watershed Review

She is currently doing more traditional research for a non-fiction work on an old time radio star, when she's not writing more flash fiction assignments from her local group, or conducting more fun research in front of a screen. 
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


  1. I totally agree with you. I learn storytelling from TV and movies all the time. The thing is with these forms of media, rarely, and I mean rarely, do the scriptwriters include something that is not important and won't come into play later. For example, if a main character meets a person in a red coat and the red coat becomes a big deal in that scene--that red coat (or that person) will appear later and will be essential to the plot.

    When we write, especially longer works, we can tend to add some scenes that don't matter so much and claim that they are needed because of characterization. Sure, a little of that is fine, and you need some to help the reader understand who these characters are. But let's be honest, sometimes, scenes are in our drafts (or maybe even published copies) because we can hardly stand to "kill our darlings."

    Great post! I think I'll start calling my TV watching research too. :)

  2. I totally just binge watched--I mean "researched"--The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. In fact, I usually research every night. :) I hope that some of the plot structure seeps in. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm going to seek out movies that are closer to what I'm writing and consciously study them for plot and character. I've always thought the saying "write what you know" had more to do with human emotion than actual events. I think if you combine the outer plot of movies/tv with inner emotion, reflection and takeaway, then you can build a strong story. Because movies can only show emotion through the actor's face and reactions, not their inner thoughts (unless there's narration over the action), and book characters rely on the opposite. Lots to think about. Great post, Kilmeny! :)

    Margo ~ that's a great observation about scenes that seem to just be for characterization or a character thrown into a book that never appears again. I have a few of those types of characters in my WIP that keep appearing, and the entire time I'm writing it I'm thinking, why am I putting this in here? But it's NaNo, so I'm throwing everything in right now. I will have to murder them later. :)


We love to hear from readers! Please leave a comment. :)