Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | March 22, 2012


In preparing a talk I gave recently I learned that the subject of research, when it falls under the purview of creative writing, could be approached from three perspectives:  (1) Intentional Research, when the writer is searching directly for information to satisfy the needs of a specific, usually ongoing project; (2) Inspirational Research, when the attempt is to learn, create or experience knowledge that could provoke an image, idea, or connection, which may inspire an article, story or poem; and (3) Fortuitous Research, where the writer has an unplanned experience that stimulates an idea or provides material for a story, article, or poem written later. 

Intentional Research is very familiar to writers—or should be.  We pencil in a fact, an unusual word, a scene, a character’s description when creating the framework of our piece, but are the details accurate and/or proper?  Was the dialogue I wrote for my character actually part of his lexicon?  Were there any blue daffodils in Shakespeare’s garden?  Did Shakespeare have a garden?  Are there any blue daffodils?  Was the rogue that was slinking down an eighteenth century wharf wearing a decorous outfit?  Does a flamingo feed with its head upright or upside down?  The details of this latter question James Audubon overlooked, when he painted his famous drawing of a feeding flamingo. Ol’ James didn’t do his research. 

These are the kinds of inquiries writers encounter.  To gain answers, they hit libraries, surf the Internet, visit museums, battlegrounds or other relevant locations, do interviews, or perform experiments.  They gather the information with the intent of providing credibility to their project.

One of the beauties of Intentional Research is that the writer will in most cases learn something new; find a quirk that may add humor, sadness, or other sensual or visual stimuli.  These deviations from the norm provide anecdotal material, which adds color to writing and enhances its appeal.  Thus Intentional Research blends into Inspirational Research, because this newfound material provides fodder for other writings.

Inspirational Research has always supplied me with a wealth of material.  Thankfully, I kept a journal while traveling around Kenya and the Seychelles.  Ten years after the trip, my notes, photographs, and the knickknacks that I collected provided the material to write my travel adventure Malachite Lion.  Likewise, my bird watching journals, notes and travels supplied information for my recent book, Chasing Wings.

So how does the third method, Fortuitous Research, of gathering knowledge benefit a creative writer?  Let’s say a writer and his friend are ice fishing, the ice breaks and they fall in.  If the writer doesn’t freeze or drown, he may someday create a character that falls through the ice.  He will be able to describe the experience accurately, if the writer had kept alert, an open mind, and stayed observant during his unplanned encounter to mimic a polar bear. 

Of the three methods of inquiry, I find Inspirational Research the most enjoyable.  I’m always prodding my muse and her toys for ideas. 

One of the best ways I found to utilize all three methods of research in one weekend is to attend a writers’ conference.  This summer the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, one of the oldest continuously operating, and most nurturing, writers’ organizations in the USA, is holding its annual event at the Huntsville Marriott, a hotel next to the U. S. Space and Rocket Center.  Besides meeting writers, attending workshops, networking and socializing, I am sure a view of a full-sized space shuttle, Apollo and Saturn 5 rockets, and the variety of other space flight paraphernalia will provide a wealth of information and inspire in me gallons of creative juices.

– ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ –

© Richard Modlin 2012




  1. Hi! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the outstanding work!

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and I agree 100% with your 4th paragraph, well said.


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