A Writer’s Serendipity or How Research Saved My Book

As a blogger and science nerd, I try to keep up with science news from a variety of sources. Oddly, that curiosity rarely benefits my writing. My writing style follows a diagonal on the chart below: Lawful Plantser, True Plantser, and Chaotic Plotter. And that’s pretty much how my research goes, too. I start with a plan and end going off script. This is the story of a writer’s serendipity or how research saved my book.

Image of a 3 x 3 table listing Lawful panther, neutral panther, chaotic panther in top row, lawful plaster, true plaster, chaotic plaster on the next row, and lawful plotter, neutral plotter and chaotic plotter on the final row.

My Research Method

Targeted research is when one narrows their topic and is very selective in choosing books and articles for said research. Targeted research is always my intent, it rarely is what gives me the most inspiration.

I love Google Maps. They allow me to “travel to” areas I’ve never visited. But the maps don’t give me the smells, the texture, or the mood of the place. For those, I search out travel blogs, expat blogs, and personal blogs. Sometimes, I reach out to a blogger for more details. Usually, bloggers respond with more information than I need. And that’s a lovely thing.

Sometimes, I need more hands-on research. That may mean a visit to a museum or a road trip to a location.

Be Prepared

Serendipity has been a big part of the Fellowship Dystopia Series. Although it isn’t quite serendipitous if you’re looking in the correct direction.

For example, I had selected Lynchburg, Virginia as a location in the first book, My Soul to Keep, because of its history and location. But until I visited Lynchburg, I did not know about the former Virginia State Epileptic Colony.

I happened upon the historical marker as I drove through the area around Lynchburg. After researching the Colony, it became a source of inspiration and an important location in the book.

Image of a historical marker which reads Centeral Virginia Training Center.  Established in 1910 as the Virginia State Epileptic Colony the center admitted its first patients in May 1911. It's an example of a writer's serendipity or how research saved my book.

Don’t Research Everything

When I first started writing, I would research the heck out of every topic and location I wanted to include in the book. It was a tremendous amount of work and I would amass more files than I could store (both physical and virtual).

You know what all the research did? Squat. Typically, I used very little of the research I collected before I started writing the book. Often, in writing the story, I’d find the research didn’t fit the book. Not only that, no matter how much I think I’ve planned the book, more than one thing changes during the writing. All that research work was a waste of time.

These days, I will research a general topic or time period or location. When I accumulate three or more pages of notes, I move on to another topic or I write.

It’s when I write the first draft that the real serendipity research happens.

Everyone Must Follow Their Own Best Flow

Legions of writing mentors will tell you not to stop writing once you start your first draft. Their belief is that if you interrupt the creative process, you will lose your way. That was true of me when I first started writing. Anything that interrupted my writing threw me off course or straight into what many refer to as writer’s block.

What works for me now is to research as I go. I write as far as I can based on my imagination or memory. When the writing stutters and I can’t seem to get through the next scene, I take a few hours to a few days for research.

When I’m in the middle of a draft, my head is full of possibilities. Maybe my character will go here and do this. Or do that and go there. Or…. It’s nonstop and a bewildering plethora of possibilities. But with a bit of research, my writer’s brain (some call this their muse) will latch onto some bit of information. That piece of information focuses my writer’s brain and writing the draft takes off again.

Serendipity Strikes Again

Recently, I was researching a blog article I wanted to write. I needed more scientific research to back up my story. I turned to one of my frequent sources, Sciencenews.org. My search of their website was fruitless. But the site was celebrating their 100th anniversary. 

My curiosity overcame what little resistance I had. I clicked on one of their original stories, and that resulted in another bit of writer’s Serendipity.

Dated September 19, 1921, the article titled, “Urges Artificial Selection to Produce American Race of Demigods” is a peek into a certain mindset. And a piece of a book I haven’t even outlined was born. Perhaps a character may grow out of this article.

Stay tuned to this blog to see if the final version of And When I Wake, the third book of the Fellowship Dystopia series, will use this bit of a writer’s serendipity or how research saved my book.

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