Research, Experience, or Imagination to Create Fiction

 

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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?

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Choose Your Own Adventure

Nicholas C. Rossis

Journey under the sea | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books View on Amazon

In my search for reading material for the wee one, I came across a post by Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura on “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. These can feel like being lost in a maze and running through twists and turns only to find dead ends, switchbacks, and disappointment. In the books—for those not familiar with them—you read until you come to a decision point, which prompts you to flip to another page, backward or forward.

The early books in the series, which began in 1979, have dozens of endings, reached through branching storylines so complex that that trying to keep track of your path can seem hopeless—no matter how many fingers you stick into the book in order to find your way back to the key, fateful choice. You might end up back at an early fork again, surprised at how far you…

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Two unmissable FREE romances set in Greece

Nicholas C. Rossis

Effrosyni Moschoudi-Freebies | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's booksGreek award-winning author, Effrosyni Moschoudi, is one of my closest author friends–and, it turns out, a distant cousin. She is now offering two of her books for FREE right now. Both are perfect choices for lovers of romance and all things Greek! What makes this offer particularly special to me, though, is that one of my own stories is included in Facets of Love–a brand new short story collection you won’t find published anywhere. It is an exclusive book for Effrosyni’s mailing list readers. Join the list by leaving your email on her website and receive the book in a few minutes. The author sends out emails very sparsely and your privacy is guaranteed!

Claim your FREE copy now!

Her second FREE book is The Ebb, an award-winning novel set in Corfu. It is $0.99 on Amazon but can be downloaded for FREE in other e-stores as well as a PDF file from…

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Don’t Read My Book

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Reworking this article again. Several authors have used reverse psychology in humorous approaches to marketing their books.

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Stephanie Barr made a meme for Tarot Queen, that highlights aspects of the book that some people might possibly find irritating. And “…not a single flying car.”

Reverse psychology involves advocating ideas or behaviors that are in opposition to one’s desired goals according to Wikipedia. Above is a reverse mention of my book, Pratima’s Forbidden Book. This approach reverses what everyone even remotely associated with business thinks of as standard marketing. It’s usually about creating a favorable perception for your product.

Some authors have taken the humorous approach of producing meme posters about why you, a potential reader, should not pick up and read their books. The reasons can include potential shortcomings in their books, or critiques of reading generally, or the particular genre, or perhaps larger criticisms of the world in general.  Usually, the desired outcome derives from the hope of the author that you will be so intrigued that you will rush out and buy the book.

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In K. M. Herkes’ example above for her book, Controlled Descent, we see negatives and tongue in cheek comments.

The hoped for psychological outcome seems similar to me to that in Goodreads reviews where controversy around a book results in more sales. When readers have contentious disagreements about the content, style, or meaning of a book, new readers can become curious to try for themselves. They want to see what side of the controversy they will land after giving the book a try.

dontread_470511166462959_1441979994374461108_oM. A. Ray, in the example above, disses aspects of her book, Hard Luck.

Reverse psychology is a time honored mind control approach. We use it with our friends, enemies, and family members to gain compliance. We hope that if we seem to offer a position that is opposite of our true position we will find common ground with the other person, or get those others to lower their barriers and let in our message.

One approach to marketing is to offer benefit for the customer. Writers who employ reverse psychology memes are hoping to secretly show how their book will offer value to the reader. The self-criticism of the book may be intended to be false, or may be intended to warn the reader what to be careful of.

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For Crimson Fire, Mirren Hogan lists possible off-putting facts about her book. Sometimes the very features we highlight as being of concern to the reader might be selling points.

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For The Korpes File, J.I. Rogers explains why some readers might not want to read her book. There is some method to this madness, in the overt downplaying of one’s own brand or poking fun in the advertisements. One goal is differentiation, to separating one’s books from others in the maketplace.

Don’t be afraid of reading a book, just because the author tells you scary things. Likely an author puts the energy into critiquing their book because they hold their own works in high regard. Give them a try. Judge for yourself whether there is validity in the reverse-hype!

Author links:

J. I. Rogers: https://www.amazon.com/J.-I.-Rogers/e/B06XDGF5D2 and https://www.amazon.com/J.-I.-Rogers/e/B06XDGF5D2

K. M. Herkes: https://www.amazon.com/K.M.-Herkes/e/B00GRLYEL2 and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7391528.K_M_Herkes

M. A. Ray: https://www.amazon.com/M.A.-Ray/e/B00IREBFUU and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7509703.M_A_Ray

Mirren Hogan at: https://www.amazon.com/Mirren-Hogan/e/B01MAYXJV9 and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9833643.Mirren_Hogan

S. A. Gibson: https://www.amazon.com/S.-A.-Gibson/e/B00O0HQ6E8 and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8687249.S_A_Gibson

Stephanie Barr: https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Barr/e/B00N9W84YK/ and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8176598.Stephanie_Barr

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The Soldiers’ Pocket Books That Legitimized Paperbacks

Nicholas C. Rossis

Even though pamphlets and softcover books have been available in Europe since the 16th century, US readers looked down on them until well into the 20th century. As a recent Atlas Obscura post by Cara Giaimo explains, without a mass-market distribution model in place, it was difficult to make money selling inexpensive books.

Although certain brands succeeded by partnering with department stores, individual booksellers preferred to stock their shops with sturdier, better-looking hardbacks, for which they could charge higher prices. Even those who were trying to change the public’s mind bought into this prejudice: one paperback series, Modern Age Books, disguised its offerings as hardcovers, adding dust jackets and protective cardboard sleeves. They, too, couldn’t hack it in the market, and the company folded in the 1940s.

Wartime Reading

Armed Services Editions | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Soldiers in Virginia wrangle with hardcover books donated through the VBC. Image via Atlas Obscura.

Then, war came. In September of…

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Author Interview: S.A. Gibson

Here I am!

No Wasted Ink

Author S.A. Gibson has five books and several short stories set in a future where modern technology has been lost. All his stories are suitable for a wide range of ages, from 5th grade on up. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.

Author SA GibsonGrowing up in Southern California, I have held many jobs over the years, computer tech, administrative support, community organizing, and book writing. After years of work, I returned to school to study for a Ph.D. in education. For the last several years, I have been publishing academic articles, books, and book chapters. I am looking a what qualities make individual good teachers, under difficult conditions and low pay. I now live with my spouse and a small dog, working on school work and fiction stories.

When and why did you begin writing?

From childhood to the present, I have been reading huge numbers of science fiction stories…

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SCAVENGER HUNT & BLOG TOUR

SCAVENGER HUNT & BLOG TOUR

Urbanhype101

urbanhype101

Welcome everyone to the Alienation blog tour hop.

Please take your seat and strap yourself in, as we take you on an intergalactic tour. You will be amazed, entertained, and educated. Manoeuvre through the cosmos and be astounded at all you see. Hunt down the hidden words that will get you to your final destination where a one-of-a-kind award awaits one lucky traveller.

You are here to celebrate the release of Alienation, book two of the Starstruck series.

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Sally Webber’s dream is coming true: Zander is back and taking her out for a night on the town–on a planet hundreds of light years away from Earth.

But when an accident separates her from her alien tour guide, she’s thrown into the seedy underbelly of an insane city where nothing is as it seems. Suddenly lost and desperate to get back home, Sally is willing to do anything to get out…

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Varied Characters in Speculative Fiction

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Speculative fiction has often been a launching pad for ideas about society, politics, science, and world events that are different or unusual. This type of reading material offers perspectives, views, opinions, and facts that may surprise or enlighten.

Authors producing works of spec-fiction often examine issues of interest to themselves. Speculative fiction often can be seen as a political genre. These stories relate ideas, thoughts about how we should live, what our future might hold, how people differ, and how we govern ourselves. Concerns reflect the range of interests people have. This fiction can serve as different lenses through which to view the present, past, and future.

The inclusion of diverse characterization can be seen as injecting politics into speculative fiction. These characters can include people of color, people having marginalized ethnic identity, people fitting under LGBTQ+, and/or people having qualities of disabled/neurodivergent. Excitingly, more and more stories in the universe of speculative fiction are including some of these different elements.

This week L. C. Mawson has recruited many authors who are willing to offer for free their titles in a book giveaway called, Start Reading Diverse Sci-fi Giveaway. Now through October 10th, you have the opportunity to try, for free, ebooks that feature diverse characters. Check it out and experience the wide ranging types of characters which can be found in fiction!

Click here to see the books available: https://books.bookfunnel.com/srdsciencefiction/ezkkvtf944

Casting Horses in Fictional Worlds

Nicholas C. Rossis

I found this excellent post on horses on Dan Koboldt’s blog. It is part of his weekly Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy blog series, where he tackles one of the scientific or technological concepts pervasive in sci-fi (space travel, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, etc.) with input from an expert. Be sure to join his mailing list to be notified every time new content is posted.

His post on horses was actually a guest post, written by Rachel Annelise Chaney; a woman who spent her childhood inhaling every scrap of horse information she could find and riding every equine she could climb on. Since adopting an ex-racehorse, she’s ridden, trained or cared for everything from Thoroughbreds to Quarter Horses, Drafts to Arabians, Warmblood jumpers to Paint barrel racers. A reader and writer of SFF, Rachel currently languishes in the Eternal Pit of Revision. You should follow her on Twitter

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Balance in Writing

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Over the years I’ve worried about crossing lines in my writing. Sometimes I have the job of writing funny material. Once, I was taken off my column in a company newsletter because my humor was too biting. I was nervous when experimenting with fiction writing about creating villains. I feared falling too deep into the minds of the evil-doers. And today, I wonder if compromising my story vision might gain me more readers, and bring in higher income. I want to revisit these questions for my own enlightenment.

To recap, the questions for a writer are: What not to put in Stories?; To thine own self be true, but how much?; and What to compromise for success? The first question for me relates to my ethics and morality. I’m somewhat sensitive to stories I read. I don’t want to read much torture, violence toward the weak, sexual assault, and similar topics. So of course, when I write, I very carefully choose what I include in my stories. I have had a torture scene in one book. It was limited and quick. The second question, I see meaning do I only write what I want, or do I write for others. I seek a happy balance, it should be what I enjoy, but also enjoyable for others. The third question I haven’t answered for myself yet. It remains an open question for me.

I asked these questions of author friend, Stephanie Barr, here is her response:
“I don’t want to put in enough detail that I’m providing voyeurism to someone who gets off on something heinous. I think it would turn off a decent person and only appeal to someone who perhaps wasn’t so decent. I think most people have sufficient imagination they can get the sense without a graphic description. That’s how I see it.”

“I am true to myself, and I make my characters true to certain of my own moral hard lines – but not all of them and part of what I do is point out that some decisions don’t always give you a clean choice, where any choice is good. In Curse of the Jenri, I have a mother who loves her children and kills them out of love for them. That’s a hard sell, but I needed to put her in a bad enough position that the reader could understand why she did it, that she wasn’t evil, even if they could not have done it themselves. I like to push my own boundaries. I think many people can easily become judgmental–I think writing is a venue where you can help people understand a different perspective.”

“I’m fortunate because I don’t have to be successful as a writer. I have the luxury of writing only what I’m proud to write and don’t have to compromise. But, I think people are more likely to respond to writing if you love what you write, if it really speaks from your heart. In the end, I don’t think compromise gives you the kind of readers who will love your writing the way you want them to.”

Writer friend, Jennefer Rogers also gave me her answers:
“Every age has had people who wrote for the morality/trends of the day, and those who pushed the boundaries. There was a time when books by women weren’t published, and there are still places in the world that will harm authors who pose concepts that stray from the Religion of the area. We’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world that allows us to express ourselves fairly freely (Canada does not have the same rights and guarantees on freedom of speech that the US does).”

“It comes down to this – are you a ‘bread and butter’ author, or are you someone who doesn’t have to rely on it for income. Hearing the phrase ‘writing is a hobby’ has always annoyed me – authors and other creative people are pulling double duty to pay bills/hold down a job, and answer the call of their muse. The last time I made a reliable income from my authoring or art was in the 90s. Sticking to what’s safe isn’t a crime – you are guaranteed to find a following, but there is no shame in choosing to push boundaries and potentially make people angry – or generate constructive dialogue and address problems/raise awareness. There is wiggle room between the extremes; I’m sure we could come up with some sort of Venn Diagram to demonstrate the sweet spot. I’ve seen a number of articles that are upselling the idea of using algorithms to compose bestsellers. It’s not a new concept – Romance novelists have been following the same flowchart for decades.”

I’m in a rare position, I don’t need to make money from my work (I’d love to, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t have to) – I’m supported financially in my creativity. As a result, my book (soon to be series) is edgier. I’m writing a story I would want to read. I too don’t enjoy graphic/gratuitous scenes of violence, rape, torture, but they are elements that can be used if done artfully. The best old movies often had things happening off-camera. We all knew what was going on, our imaginations filled in the blanks – we didn’t need to see it. Someone told me to add more of an erotic element to my book, but I declined. Not because I’m offended by it, but because I felt it didn’t fit the narrative. Similarly, I delved into the motivations of my protagonists and antagonists to demonstrate that no one sees themselves as ‘evil,’ and that even good people can fall prey to the abuse of power.”

“My advice to any author – Remain true to yourself and your vision of your story – then listen carefully to what your beta-readers have to say. Somewhere between the two lies the ‘sweet spot’ of success.”

So, we writers face similar questions as members of other professions. How to meet our goals and keep faith with our ideals and ideas. We will continue to struggle with these questions, and hope that the output of our struggles will entertain our fans.

Author links:

https://www.facebook.com/J.I.Rogers.Author

https://www.facebook.com/stephanieebarr

https://www.facebook.com/ProtectedBooks/