Monday, March 21, 2016


Research is a big part of writing a story, and our focus this week.
Watch for stories from authors Lise Horton, 
Ursula Renée and Anna DePalo.

When writers talk about research, we’re generally referring to the specifics we delve into in order to make our manuscript correct: historical detail for our Regency, aspects of a particular profession we want accurate, or elements of world-building to ensure that our “world” – be it real or paranormal – is recognizable to our readers, sociologically speaking.

But there is an entirely different avenue to explore when researching, as a writer; one that is important across the board, for every story we write.

That is research into the human condition. The science and psychology of mankind, like society and sex, which can help you establish powerful characters, with identifiable goals, motivations and conflicts; and history and sociology exploring social structures, communities, how taboos work, etc.

This type of research is ongoing. There’s always something new or more to learn than can add another kernel of nuance and detail to your storytelling to make it as immediate as possible for your readers. Ensure that your world and characters are such readers can empathize and identify with your heroes and heroines. To guarantee that they read as “real”: flesh and blood, living, breathing, yearning “humans” and to make sure your world is driven by familiar rules and logic.

For example, how much time do you devote to the study of human physiology, neurobiology, psychology and sociology when you craft your stories? We research sex and relationships, certainly, to ensure honest portrayals of what we write: love. But there are more discoveries that can add richness, and astute detail and, at the same time, be created to be read with the greatest impact.

Then there is the actual ACT of reading. How much thought do you give to the experience of a reader’s reading of your novel when writing? Not just the craft questions like plot, pacing, grammar and myriad other details: Do you think of how readers read? How the physical act of viewing words becomes recognition and how they engage, and are translated in, a reader’s mind?

In past workshops I’ve discussed the fact that the average reader “hears” the words she is reading, and how that knowledge can help author craft successful passages by choosing and arranging words to maximum effect.  In another workshop on the five senses, I pointed out the difference in the way scent is interpreted by our brains from touch, sound and sight; scent is the one sense that links the sensory experience with memory and feelings, making scent an exceptionally powerful sensory detail to use.

Two articles in The New York Times, “Your Brain On Fiction” by Anne Murphy Paul (Sunday Review sec., 3/18/12) and “The Brain On Love” by Diane Ackerman (Sunday Review sec., 3/25/12) offer amazing theory and research.

In Paul’s article, for example, the choice of descriptive words being read alters the neurological response in a reader. Words that invoke touch sensations, “rouse the sensory cortex”. “The singer had a velvet voice” evokes a more potent response than does “the singer had a pleasing voice”. Words like lavender and cinnamon and other scent descriptors elicit a response not just from the expected areas where language is processed, but other areas devoted to scent interpretation. And a final observation indicates that the brain “does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life”.

In addition to the physical, there are the social implications. One psychologist uncovered that “there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals”, and as readers we “identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers”. 

Beyond the understanding of a reader’s physical perception, there is also the psychology and sociology of love, sex, romance and human relationships to explore.

Articles and books on these subjects can prove wonderfully enlightening for a writer who seeks to imbue her human characters with as much complex subtlety as possible, while engaging her readers on every level, from the conscious to the subconscious.

In addition to the straightforward books and articles on psychology, personality, sociology, sexuality, here are a few titles to add to your library that are specifically geared to authors:

Angela Ackerman’s The Negative Trait Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Emotion Thesaurus (for writers);

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How To Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morrell♥

Lise Horton is a published author of erotica and erotic romance, including BDSM/kink stories. You can visit her at  Her current BDSM erotic romance, Hold Tight, has been nominated for a 2016 Golden Flogger Award in the Advanced BDSM Category.


Getting Your Facts Straight: Importance of Research by Ursula Renée

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