In the name of research…Part 2 – Plot

November 20, 2012

Maybe that first book has been burning inside you for years. But when those ideas are all used up, and inspiration has run dry, where do you go for new ideas?

12 bmV3c3BhcGVyLW1hZ25pZnlpbmctZ2xhc3MtbmV3LmpwZw==#1 Search news sources – Write down in your notebook any interesting or unusual snippets of news you read or hear. You never know what your subconscious might do with them. My plot began from two local news sources. First I read in a newspaper about a WWII plane crash on an island with a mysterious twist. Then I heard a radio news report about a dead man falling from the sky in a parachute in a busy inner city area.  My mind took these seemingly two unrelated incidents and with a bit of writer’s magic dust (or maybe a bottle of wine), weaved them together into the basis of the plot of my latest novel.

#2 Branch out – once I had done some research on Setting (see my previous blog), and decided to set the main story in Phoenix, U.S.A. I started to research their local online newspapers for interesting news stories that might add intrigue to my plot. This is where I came across stories about the prevalence of Mexican cartels in the city and the high rate of kidnappings. Often these stories act as ‘gateway sources’ with links to additional information or just spurn ideas for further research. You could follow these links and Google for days and weeks (I think I was born with a procrastination gene) so just be careful to concentrate on information relevant to your plot. During this process my plot grew. One character developed an unusual hobby of ‘urban exploration’ which ended up getting him killed, and another was kidnapped for ransom by a Mexican cartel.

#3 Speak to experts – As your plot develops you may need to find out more about medical and forensic details and police and legal procedures. The internet is great, but it is also good to speak to professionals in the field. I have found in my experience, there are very few people who won’t talk to you if you are polite and explain that you really want your book to be plausible and true to their vocation (especially if you offer to acknowledge them in the book for their assistance). Some organizations may even have a division dedicated to providing information to the public and often they love to talk about what they know!

#4 Record real life events – Sometimes bad things happen to good people you know, or even to you. This kind of information can be recorded and later fictionalized into a plot for a novel (taking great care if the issue is sensitive to others). Equally, good experiences can be twisted into exciting plots.  This year we travelled to the U.S.A. and took a helicopter flight through the Grand Canyon which was a fantastic experience (despite the vomit-inducing turbulence). I combined the visual experience of this with my aerobatic flight experience in New Zealand to create a stunt-filled air chase through the desert ending with a spectacular crash in a canyon (not something I really wanted to experience!).

#5 Engage a research assistant – I have to thank my husband for being so committed to the ‘research’ cause…and for being so damned attractive. Mosquitos just love his blue English blood. His countless attempts to ward them off with all manner of repellents, smoke and electrical gadgets prompted an opening scene in one of my chapters where bugs plummet to the ground into a death spiral.

But the snake thing, well that was going above and beyond the call of duty…it was a beautiful humid summer Queensland day like every other when I convinced him there are NO snakes in the rainforest, and it’s perfectly OK to wear shorts in this heat! It was based on empirical evidence. I’ve never encountered one. But then I don’t have his powers of attraction. All manner of lizards and wildlife crossed his path as we trekked down into the gully but I still insisted he was safe from the legless variety. That was, until he nearly stepped on a red-bellied black snake that reared up at him and nearly caused the need for a new set of shorts! I stand corrected – my main character now comes face to face with a snake in the Nth Queensland rainforest!

Feel free to share your own tips below. Next time I’ll talk about researching people for your characters. 




30 Responses to “In the name of research…Part 2 – Plot”

  1. Di Hill on November 20th, 2012 10:08 pm

    No tip – too tired to tip!!! Fancy saying that there would be no snakes in a rainforest. You hexed him.

  2. Laurie Smith on November 21st, 2012 4:05 pm

    Basically the same Lea, I follow world events, local news even some things you see on a movie or TV show can set your creative juices flowing. Sometimes your ideas happen then a few days later there it is on the news. A funny thing happened the other day, one of my bit players is an overweight, Lebanese pimp who drives a black Ford LTD, and has a couple of heavies as offsiders. Now I haven’t seen a black LTD for years, we were driving home and one pulled in front of us and we followed it for about five minutes. You guessed it, the driver was a middle aged man of middle eastern appearance with a hulking brute of a passenger in the front seat. My wife was going, ‘Have a look at him, he looks just like…..’ Maybe down in Sydney or Melbourne it wouldn’t be uncommon but not good old Ipswich. Sometimes they just pop up out of nowhere.

  3. Patricia Salamone on November 21st, 2012 4:06 pm

    Hi Lea, visited your site, very interesting and well done. I saved it in my favorites.

  4. Dennis Kitainik on November 21st, 2012 5:46 pm

    I find plot ideas in other people’s books (just now Helene Deschamps’s autobiography “Spyglass” helped me get some for my own World War 2 military thriller “The Maquisard”), in movies/TV shows, in news stories, in poems and even in songs (my debut novel, an aviation/disaster thriller called “Higher Than an Eagle” was based on Samuel Marshak’s poem “Ice Island”, but the inspiration for it was triggered by a mis-hearing of a line in the country song “Mule Train” — I heard the word “parachute” instead of “pair of shoes). Even computer games like the “Medal of Honor” series can sometimes give me ideas for action scenes…

  5. Lea on November 21st, 2012 5:47 pm

    @ Dennis – sounds like we are writing about some common themes. My current book has WWII planes and parachutes – and also a pair of shoes! I never thought about poetry as inspiration – thanks for the tip.

  6. A J Robinson on November 22nd, 2012 3:49 pm

    I draw on everything around me. When I was hired to come up with the storyline for a computer game, I drew on the current political and social strife – and mocked it. For my novels and movies, I often take something and turn it on its ear. As an example: I asked myself, what is something you can NOT make a building out of? Answer: water/liquid. So, I did so, and then had to figure out how to make it work. Fortunately, it was a sci-fi story, so I could play around with things and make it work.

  7. rina torri on November 25th, 2012 10:11 pm

    New ideas are in the commonplace. They are waiting for you in the everyday moments of life.

  8. James Osborne on November 25th, 2012 10:12 pm

    There is much truth in the saying, ‘you can’t make that stuff up’. Real events can inspire lesser or greater segments in a story or novel. Case in point: I’ve just posted a short story to my blog inspired by a true event. Its called “Tale of a Troubled Toilet”. I know, sounds wierd — and no bathroom humor here. Good for a chuckle or two, though.

  9. Lea on November 25th, 2012 10:14 pm

    I have written some short stories but often struggle to come up with topics for them. Thank you everyone. All of your advice has been inspirational.

  10. Niah Harding Kiongozi on November 26th, 2012 4:38 pm

    For some reason Lea:
    Ideas for a fresh and exciting plot find me..
    But, once i get started, then comes the Writer’s block !

  11. Jade Cannell on November 29th, 2012 1:17 pm

    I read a book by Poppy the lipstick Queen (Lessons of a Lipstick Queen) in it she talks about how she lets an idea grow.
    She has an idea and instead of rushing like a bull at it. She lets it develop to grow. If she still feels excited and passionate about it then she knows she’s onto a good thing.
    It’s good to have an idea book with you always. You never know when that next great idea will come from, and sometimes napkins scribbled with lipstick are a bit hard to read after a few hours in the handbag! Happy writing everyone! Great advice Lea.

  12. Michael Michlein on December 2nd, 2012 9:03 pm

    Everything has its dark dark side – thus whatever I encounter (relax full or stressful) I can flip like a pancake that is too dark on one side only. Serve it lovely side up and then let the reader discover the dark side. I am a courier for a large hospital system. I see joy and sighs of relief (besides the coroner’s van) everywhere. I just flip the vision and imagine the worst. Surprise ! The illness was not cured or the person gets whacked in the parking lot getting to his car or the shuttle bus. It’s easy and fun too. Forget about making lemonade from lemons. Make lemons from lemonade. Then you have conflict – emotion, physical, or spiritual. Conflict drives the story.

  13. Martha Moffett on December 3rd, 2012 10:42 pm

    When I was very young, I thought a writer sat down at a typewriter with a blank sheet of paper and began to write. Now I sit down with lots of stuff all over my desk: photographs, recipes, clips from newspapers, bits of poetry, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SYMPTOMS (in case my character gets sick), a metric converter (people always want to know if something is bigger or smaller than a football field), song lyrics, THE OXFORD AMERICAN WRITER’S THESAURUS, THE QUOTABLE WOMAN, a thesaurus of epigrams (it’s nice to throw in an epigram every now and then). In easy reach: an atlas, an almanac and a dictionary. Mine is The American Heritage Dictionary, because I gave two years of my life to the first edition. I never face a blank page without my STUFF.

  14. Sharon Espeseth on December 3rd, 2012 10:43 pm

    In his book Stephen King: A Memoir of the Craft–On Writing, King mentions how he would take one event or observation and juxtapose it with another happening or situation and let these two ideas incubate together. That’s not exactly how he put it, but throughout his “writerly memoir” he shares how books like Carrie, Misery, and The Green Mile came to be.

  15. Lea on December 4th, 2012 3:45 pm

    Wow, some great ideas here that have really got me thinking. I’m starting the second book in my trilogy over the holidays so I’m going to try some of your suggestions.
    Thanks everyone for sharing your ideas.

  16. Craig Faustus Buck on December 4th, 2012 3:49 pm

    AJ: a house made of water? I believe you were beaten to it by the Eskimos. 😉
    I mostly have to make stuff up because my memory is so bad when I hear stories I forget them by the time I’m back in my office. I find a lot of leads in the newspaper,which is why I don’t get my news online. It’s the two-inch items hidden away on the inside pages that usually provide the best kernels of plot. If you’re just reading major news stories online, you’ll miss them.

  17. Jill Tinker on December 4th, 2012 3:50 pm

    I have a story generator called writesparks. I can’t remember where I got it from but it’s useful in giving me a starting point. I usually set it to giving me a first line as that’s how I prefer to work but it can also give what if? scenarios, proverbs, metaphors and cliches. I could come up with them myself I suppose but this way I can set the timer and enjoy the challenge. I find it frees my imagination and I’ll often have my own ideas afterwards.

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