Research allows you to learn things you did not previously know. It also introduces you to worlds, ecosystems and social networks that you have little or no previous firsthand experience in. You certainly do not want to do this with your central location or story setting. But it can prove a significant writing prompt when, for example, you realize your protagonist is a marine biologist or nuclear physicist…and then you set about learning what one of those folks actually does on a day to day basis.
As a creative writing prompt to cure writer’s block, there is nothing better than being introduced to an unfamiliar world.
You will learn terms, techniques and traditions you had no idea existed. These can inform motivations, develop characters and push plot lines in your stories. It will also ground your story in a real setting, allowing for more believable scenes and scenarios.
Research vs. Familiarity
Now, again, I’m not advocating that you set your entire work in a world you have no direct familiarity with – unless, of course, you are a dedicated academic research scholar. But you can use the new information gained through research to add texture to the story. Subplots, character backgrounds and potential motivations – all of these can be informed by research.
Plus, writers discover endless curiosities when doing research. Because the world you are researching is foreign, it will pique your interest in a way that engages the storyteller in your brain. You will think: “look at all this…I wonder what sort of stories can be found here?”
Then contact someone in that field.
Explain that you are a writer doing research and ask if they would be available to meet. Perhaps they could show you around their place of business or simply talk shop. Take along a video or audio recording device and just keep them talking. If that sort of contact is not possible, confer via telephone, Skype or even mail…yes, they still have that. No matter what approach you take, make sure you do research about the person you are contacting first.
Find out about successes in their field or papers they have published. Read these and reference them in your correspondence – with specific questions about the context and content. They will appreciate your effort.
If you follow this format you will banish writer’s block in no time.