Inspiration through Research

Guest Blogger: David Sakmyster

“You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

My favorite part about the writing process (next to typing ‘The End’ at the appropriate spot, and sending said object of my blood, sweat and tears on to the agent, editor or publisher in question), takes place long before I ever set fingers to the keyboard.

I love doing research.  I suppose twenty years ago – before Google, Wikipedia, Flickr, free online books and Instant Chat with people half a world away – it would have been nerve-wracking and tedious, and I give immense credit to all those authors who slogged it out the hard way.  But now everything is there for you, quite literally at your fingertips.

But while all those resources are great once you know exactly what you want to write about, what I really love is the process of discovery, and how more often than should be statistically probable – as if something akin to a research fairy went back in time to leave these little gold nuggets for me to find – I discover exactly the thing I need (but never expected) to elevate the story or take it in a cool new direction.

When I started researching the Pharos Lighthouse for legends that it guarded a great treasure, what I didn’t expect to find but was thrilled to discover, was an account by thieves who claimed they sprang some horrific booby trap that slaughtered most of their party.  And that took my novel into a completely new direction.  Now I could propose the creation of a diabolical puzzle-trap system as the central impediment to thwart my heroes from the prize.

Another recent experience of research-inspiration came while studying up on Genghis Khan – and the mystery of where his tomb might be.  Contemporary belief is that he’s somewhere on the Sacred Mountain, near where he grew up.  This is because the one written document from the time – The Secret History of the Mongol People, hints as much.  But while researching that document, I came across a theory that the author(s) deliberately used disinformation to further protect the resting place of their great leader.  With that came my ‘Eureka’ moment, and diverted my characters to a far more interesting destination.  (And while this is fiction, I of course secretly wonder if I haven’t in fact, cracked the mystery. Only time will tell).

And finally, another benefit of research is in its capacity as a Writer’s-Block-Buster.  When I was feeling less than excited about the plotting of the third book in this series, I took a break and delved more deeply into the research.  I knew I wanted a subplot dealing with the Nazi’s interest in the occult, but when I read a few books about their connection to Tibetan mystics and the search for an entrance to the ‘Hollow Earth’, it jump-started my novel’s trajectory and led to a more compelling set of adversaries.

Writing is full of inspiration, and it can come from anywhere.  But for me, sitting around outlining and dreaming can only take me so far.  The rest comes from out there.

And speaking of ‘out there’, next week I’m visiting Cornell University’s Physics department, where I have a date with a Particle Accelerator, researching a potential means of dispatching an elemental demon from another dimension.  Maybe along the tour, I’ll discover something entirely different, but even more inspirational.

Can’t wait.

How do you find inspiration?

David Sakmyster is an award-winning screenwriter and author of THE PHAROS OBJECTIVE (Variance Publishing, 2010), and its sequel, THE MONGOL OBJECTIVE (forthcoming, 2011).  Visit David’s website here.


  1. great post, thanks for sharing this author with us.

  2. I agree, GREAT POST! And I also agree with your take on the thrill of “discovering” some previously unknown (to the researcher) secrets of history, science or whatever.

    While researching my archaeology-based trilogy, Seeds of Civilization, I learned so many amazing facts about the Maya that my first novel inspired me to make a trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and visit their secret caves at Loltun. While looking for material for the third novel, Triangle, I stumbled across some information about underwater archaeology near Bimini that will almost certainly change the history of the “new world” as we know it!

  3. First off, great article. I’m always looking for new ways to channel inspiration. Above all, I think my old standby is to read an author I’m always impressed with. It’s difficult not to end a well written chapter or an essay without thinking, “Yeah, that’s how you do it!” 🙂

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