Writers have long been blurring fiction and nonfiction, for example, in genres such as historical fiction and creative nonfiction. There is a new movement with scholars across the disciplines using fiction as a research practice in order to more fully express their cumulative knowledge and to make the research findings more publicly accessible and engaging. The result of this work is called fiction-based research (and is an outgrowth of the widely known arts-based research movement). The tools that fiction-based researchers are using may be of value to any author wishing to combine careful research in their literary writing. Here are 10 tips for turning research into fiction:
1. Goals: it's important to start by clarifying your goals. While you always want to write a great story, what is the topical or thematic content you want to explore? What do you want readers to learn or reflect on?
2. Target Audience: determining your target audience(s) will help you select an appropriate genre, style and tone.
3. Meticulous Research: once you've selected your topic it's important to do your homework and seek multiple perspectives on the subject. Your research may consist of a literature review to see what experts have written about your topic and/or first-hand data through interviews and the like.
4. Distill Themes: after you compiled your research you need to sort through it and reduce it to key themes.
5. Let Go: despite all of the work you've done conducting extensive research, you need to let it go so it doesn't bog you down and detract from writing a great story. While you'll never be able to fit all, or even most, of your research directly into the fictional rendering, the more you have learned about your topic the stronger the result will be.
6. Good Story: don't lose sight of writing a good story. At the end of the day if your work isn't engaging, authentic and resonant, readers are unlikely to take anything away from it. So pay attention to aesthetics, literary craft and the construction of narrative.
7. Literary Tools: use the power of literary writing, such as the ability to represent interiority (the inner life of characters) through interior dialogue. Fiction is uniquely able to engage, transport and build connections with readers.
8. Specificity: incorporate specific details from your research into your fictional work in order to build authenticity, believability and trustworthiness. The fictional world should ring true.
9. Foreword/Preface/Afterword: consider including a brief foreword, preface or afterword in which you note the research you conducted.
10. See It Through: all writing takes guts. When we're blurring genres and innovating we open ourselves up to even more potential critique. See your vision through by believing in your goals and staying true to your vision.
This blogger's newest books Fiction as Research Practice (Left Coast Press) and American Circumstance (Sense Publishers) are out now.