Research, Experience, or Imagination to Create Fiction



I was wondering, this week, how different authors base their stories on aspects of their lives. Some authors have been known to find inspiration from their personal experiences. Melville and Hemingway wrote stories with some ties to things they had actually done. Other authors carry out extensive research to build the world they present for the reader. Margaret Mitchell with her Gone With the Wind stands as an example of that approach. Finally, many fiction authors create their stories out of whole cloth, from their imaginations. And, of course, all three approaches may be combined. Tolkien, developed the Hobbit, with the use a vivid imagination. But, Tolkien brought an extensive knowledge of mythology, and a fascination with languages to his creation.

I asked author friends about their approaches. Three authors gave me their responses. Stephanie Barr says, “When it comes to inspiration, I usually lead with my imagination. Something will spark it – a name, an image, a situation. My experience might shape it as it I’ll think of how to tackle it using things I’ve already experienced, science or personality-wise, but I’ll be looking for new angles or new ways of seeing it. Research is almost always done AFTER I have an idea of what I want to accomplish and I need to figure out how to get there in a believable way. But, almost always, it’s the most mundane conversation or simple concept that gets me started.”

Jason Nugent says, “When I generate ideas for stories, it’s usually from some sudden burst of inspiration. I find that funny because I went to school for history and hold two degrees in the subject, yet research is not my main source of idea generation.”

Stories will come to me at the strangest of times too. I have a short horror story appearing in the inaugural issue of Gallows Hill Magazine this month (October 2017) that came to me while sitting in church one Sunday morning. I’m sure my pastor wouldn’t want to know my mind was not on the sermon, but on what would happen if a hole to hell opened up in the middle of the stage and no one could close it. That’s the premise behind my story From the Depths, Risen. Often when I come up with an idea, I will do some research to strengthen the idea. Or, through research I might discover the idea isn’t strong enough and then I’ll tinker with it until it is. Ideas come and go, but if I let them simmer long enough, I can work out the details before I ever write a word.”

Here are comments from Jennefer Rogers, “Jenn’s recipe for ‘Story Inspiration’: Add any amount of ‘Research’, ‘Experience’, and ‘Imagination’ together, store in the murky depths of one’s subconscious for an undetermined period, shake gently or stir (depending on taste), and allow to ferment. Don’t be afraid to add fresh elements – if they don’t fit, they will be strained out. Lift the lid once in a while – poke it with your pen, or stylus. Offer up appropriate bonbons to your Muse and hey-presto, you have a place to start. As you can see, I fall into the category of using all three.”

1. Research: I read voraciously and file away articles that back up my conjecture, correct me, or spark a new direction for me to take. I have a Pinterest account that’s bursting at the seams with useful tidbits. All of the science in my work is based on current tech discoveries or concepts that are extrapolated from those. I took a couple of creative liberties in The Korpes Files, but that’s okay it is science fiction.”

2. Experience: I frequently borrow from life experience to describe elements in my writing where I want to convey a particular emotional atmosphere or realistic character response. While I’ve never been incarcerated or placed in a mental ward, I do understand what dealing with mental illness is like. As a single parent, I have applied some of those experiences to the story. Not to neglect physical atmosphere, when I was younger, I did a bit of Urban Exploring; all of those impressions are stored away as photos and memories and have cropped up in my work.”

3. Imagination: I’m an artist. My Muses are constantly whispering in my ear and what they suggest can range from sci-fi through fantasy, and into metaphysical areas. I even have one nagging at me to write an autobiography. They are the direct conduit to my subconscious and once engaged, they are impossible to ignore.”

I suspect most fiction writers combine the different strands in producing their work. We receive inspiration from an event in our lives, expand the story with our imagination, then perhaps fill in details with research. When working on stories in my Protected Books series I use all three approaches, with a heavy emphasize on research. Which approach do your favorite writers use?

Author Links:

J. I. Rogers: and

Jason Nugent: and

S. A. Gibson: and

Stephanie Barr: and


4 thoughts on “Research, Experience, or Imagination to Create Fiction

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s