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!
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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.
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